Joy is a movie that is about Nigerian women who are trafficked to Austria to become prostitutes to earn money for their families back home. The thing is, they are each assigned a Madame and the cost of bringing them over, clothing and feeding them is considered a debt that they have to pay back to their Madame before they can achieve freedom. They are all here illegally and their Madame has possession of their passports so they are really trapped.
At first you think the story is about young Precious who is the newest addition and has been put under the wing of Joy. Since the movie is titled Joy, we know it is about her. Precious is having a hard time adjusting and even begs to do any other job but prostitution because it is too hard for her to do. Her Madame has no emotion and reminds her that she knew what she was coming here to do (which is true) and instead has her men forcefully have sex with her and lets Joy know that if she doesn’t whip Precious into shape, then she will be responsible for her debt. And this is just one of the difficult things to take in with this movie.
This was a good, very well done movie and it is not lost on me that the best Nigerian movie I have seen in a while, is Austrian (why can’t we get things right?) This movie is so wholly and fully Nigerian that I was so surprised that the director is Iranian- Dutch director, Sudabeh Mortezai. I don’t know how she did it but she got the Nigerian “gaze” down pat.
There were no airs with this actors and they spoke exactly as you would expect a Nigerian new to the West would. These women sold their bodies to men at night but as Nigerians are wont to do, she got the devotion Nigerians have to Church. She captured the “misery is company” mentality that usually comes with older women in Nigeria. When the women go through a hard time or risks with the job, their Madame is quick to remind them that in her day things were worse and they didn’t know what they were coming to do in Europe and at least, they do.
I have to point out that I really liked the portrayal of the Madame. Mortezai didn’t make her this ogre, mean monster. She was soft spoken but you would not miss the fact that she is ice cold and you don’t cross her. I also feel she embodied the Nigerian attitude of doing the most awful things but still somehow seeing yourself as innocent and a good person. She really in her mind thought she was a protector of the girls.
I digressed and didn’t speak much about Joy (the actor’s real name). It is ironic that this is the title of the movie as Joy does not experience much joy at all in this movie. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of times we see her smile. She is in one gnarly situation after another. Always thinking about how much she can help her family back home and her daughter in Austria who she has living with someone else. I should point out that the families back home know fully well what their loved ones are doing in Austria and are only concerned about how much they will be getting. Something Precious rails about in one scene wondering how a mother could be harping on her child to sell her body just to have money.
Overall, this is a heartbreaking movie that is even more heartbreaking because it is the reality for a lot of Nigerian women. I can’t imagine a life filled with dead end hope and feeling trapped. Watching the women being paraded for sale and the older women pimps commenting on their body and what they will do was just…sad. I loved how unapologetically Nigerian it was. At the end there is a party where money is being sprayed (a common Nigerian practice at events) and I saw online where someone was asking what that meant and why were people throwing money around (lol). Once again, I don’t know how Mortezai did it but she did it right.
I recommend this movie. Let me know what you think when you watch it.