A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Life is unfair. People who are treated badly may feel they have the right to treat others badly.
Positive Role Models
Joy is shrewd and intelligent, a loving mother who pays for someone else to care for her young daughter while she makes money as a prostitute. She dutifully sends money to her family back in Nigeria.
Violence & Scariness
A voodoo priest breaks the neck off a chicken (off screen) and uses its blood to perform a religious ceremony. Girls are kept virtual prisoners and forced to be prostitutes until they can pay off their debt to their pimps. A girl who was sold into prostitution begs to do "another job," rather than have sex for money. Her madam's two male employees rape her off-camera as punishment for disobeying. A girl's mother tells her to "sleep with more men" so the girl can send more money home to her parents. A madam recounts how back when she was a young prostitute, she was raped and stabbed. A prospective john says he doesn't want to have sex with any "blackie" prostitutes. Madams gather to inspect and bid on new girls fresh from Africa, presenting the horrific scenario of African women buying African girls from African men, echoing the barbarity of the American slave trade. A prostitute is beaten and raped by several johns, offscreen. She can't be taken to the hospital for treatment because she is an illegal alien.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Girls from Nigeria agree to go to Europe to become prostitutes so they can make enough money to repay the passage to Europe and send home money to their families. A woman asks her client for more money than usual before they have sex. The sex isn't shown.
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"F--k" and "blackie."
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Products & Purchases
The film indirectly indicts first-world consumers of the sex trade as the key to making enslaving girls a profitable business.
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Joy, in German with English subtitles, and not to be confused with the 2015 Jennifer Lawrence vehicle, looks at exploitation of young female immigrants from Nigeria who have been coerced into the sex trade in Vienna. While there's no onscreen violence, nudity, or sex, these, plus paralyzing poverty, are all the subject of the movie. Even religious leaders in Nigeria are in on the take as they send innocent girls to Europe after elaborate juju ceremonies that persuade girls that spirits will punish them and their families if they don't pay their debts and cooperate when they become prostitutes and virtual slaves. An uncooperative newbie is taken into a room and raped by two men to teach her that she has no alternative but to do as she is told. Nothing is seen but her cries are heard. A voodoo priest breaks the neck off a chicken (off screen) and uses its blood to perform a religious ceremony. A girl's mother tells her to "sleep with more men" so the girl can send more money home to her parents. A madam recounts how back when she was a young prostitute, she was raped and stabbed. A prospective john says he doesn't want to have sex with any "blackie" prostitutes. Madams gather to inspect and bid on new girls fresh from Africa. A prostitute is beaten and raped by several johns, offscreen. She can't be taken to the hospital for treatment because she is an illegal alien. "F--k" is used.
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Is It Any Good?
This is a movie that's sometimes hard to watch. Joy won Best Film award at the 2018 London Film Festival, and certainly Alphonsus is good as a pragmatic woman dealing with her distasteful world just as it is -- as created by director Sudabeth Mortezai -- rather than how she wishes it would be. What's commendable is the way he director decided to make a film about sexual exploitation without capitalizing on the exploitation by showing the actors naked or having actual sex. The movie does a great job of outlining the horrors of human trafficking and its physical and psychological toll, as well as setting up Joy's moral dilemmas. Especially galling is the hypocrisy of authorities who want Joy to help them put away a criminal but who don't care about the danger it will put Joy in.
However, in constant survival mode, Joy is expressionless and emotionless through most of the film. Like the family that sent her to become a prostitute, her moral compass is compromised. Without much of a plot to make sense of the dark world presented here, there isn't much for an audience to do but simply accept the darkness. There's some confusion as to which character the story focuses on and the film can be maddeningly vague at times. A scene in Africa seems to depict men throwing money, or perhaps fake money, at female dancers. Why? We don't know. Why linger on this for so long? We don't know. To the degree that older teens might find this of interest, the slow pace will be off-putting and the meandering quality of many scenes will make this feel like a long, unrewarding slog.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.