________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 21 . . . . June 20, 2003


Where Did You Sleep Last Night?

Cliff Skeleton (Director). George Johnson (Producer). Susan Musgrave and Cliff Skelton (Writers). Lori Roth and Nathan Neumer (Project Creators).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2001.
22 min., 16 sec., VHS, $49.95.
Order Number: C9101 219

Subject Headings:
Child prostitution.
Teenage prostitution.

Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.

Review by Joanne Peters and Wendy Johnson Brown.

*** /4

Jodie is a teenager living a comfortable suburban middle-class existence. The walls of her bedroom are adorned with the usual posters and paraphernalia of adolescent life: rock stars, keepsakes, photos. And, a card with a phone number from someone named Silas. He's met her at the mall, apparently by chance, although it's obvious to the viewer that he cruises around looking for young women, driving up in his very cool convertible sports car, and making them feel very special. "You want attention from people. I felt like . . . I was special." She is flattered by this much older guy's attention, who really does know how to make a girl feel special: dinner and drinks at a fancy restaurant, partying at clubs, romantic encounters in his apartment overlooking the city. But, the attention and affection come with a price. One night, Silas finds himself in a tough spot: he has a drug debt to settle and his creditor wants payment now. Jodie can help: all she has to do is have sex with the dealer and the debt is remitted. Of course, she is shocked by the idea, but, hey, Silas insists that "it's just sex" and, of course, she cares for him and wouldn't want any harm done to him. After that, Jodie is on the street, working in the cold and the rain, thoroughly exploited by this guy who, at first, made her feel "special." Is there a happy ending to this story? It doesn't seem so.

     Where Did You Sleep Last Night? is designed for use by counselors, teachers, and youth workers who wish to address the issue of teens being targeted and lured into the sex trade. I found the imagistic opening scenes of the video out of place with the gritty reality of the subject matter and wondered about just how realistic the story was. I was shocked at the swiftness with which Jodie was swept from suburbia to the streets, from romance to "you better have my money!" I asked one of the school's guidance counselors to view the film and give me her reactions. Unbeknownst to me, Wendy Johnson Brown had worked in a "harm reduction" and safety program offered to girls of Jodie's age (and younger) and had plenty of experience with versions of this story. Wendy agreed that the abstract beginning of the film might not grab the attention of teenage viewers, but that interest does build as the story goes on. As she put it, "We don't necessarily align with the young woman right off the bat. Her exclamation of 'I'm bored' somehow didn't fit - it didn't seem natural. Most often the young women I've know are actively looking for excitement and are already somewhat promiscuous and aware of their sexual power or lack of it." Nevertheless, Wendy agreed that the video was well-acted and that it offered a "good portrayal of enticement by pimps and then their control. [In particular] the car was used in a powerful way to show the dynamics of the game of exploitation and the power/control of the pimp."

     How best to use this video? Both Wendy and I felt that whole-class viewing probably would not be effective. Wendy stated that she "would show this video to a small group of girls that I might determine to be 'at risk' of this exploitation" followed by focused discussion on the Myth/Reality statements listed on the videojacket. Certainly, this video needs previewing in order to determine how it will be used and how to handle the tough issues that it addresses. The language is rough, at times, although totally consistent with the subject matter. Recommended for use by guidance counselors, social workers, and adults working with students who might be "at risk." And, this video suggests that almost any young woman could be vulnerable to the attentions of an older guy with access to a lot of cash, and who makes her feel "special."


Joanne Peters is a teacher-librarian and Wendy Johnson Brown is a Guidance Counsellor at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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