Joy review: Honest but heartbreaking story of migrant Nigerian sex workers

Joy review: Honest but heartbreaking story of migrant Nigerian sex workers

Australian-Iranian filmmaker Sudabeh Mortezai’s Joy, which is currently streaming on Netflix, plays out like a documentary but that doesn’t stop it from making a strong impact. In spite of its slow narrative, this heartbreaking story of migrant Nigerian sex workers hits you like a ton of bricks. A hard-hitting look at the sex slave trade, the film is also a great character study of hapless women and how they get sucked into the world of sex trade. It also shines the spotlight on the migrant Nigerian population and what’s happening to most of them. The story is centered on Joy, a young Nigerian woman caught in the vicious cycle of sex trafficking. In order to support her family in Nigeria and for a better life for her daughter in Vienna, she works the streets to pay off debts. As she struggles to make sense of the merciless system of exploitation, she is handed over the responsibility of supervising Precious, a 17-year-old girl from Nigeria who is not ready to accept her fate. The two form an unlikely bond – almost like mother-daughter- and everything that unfolds between them forms the rest of the story. Unlike most films on similar themes, Joy takes a lot of time in locating its focal character. It presents a very dark view about the world of sex trafficking and showcases images that are not just hard to forget but takes a lot of heavy heart to absorb. The film is shocking because it’s about women exploiting other women. Angela Ekeleme Pius plays a spiteful female pimp Madame and she literally controls the lives of all the women who are on her payroll and she’s a mean boss to please. When Joy is handed over the responsibility of grooming Precious and getting her ready for the streets, she looks after like she’s her own daughter and some of the scenes between them are heart touching in an otherwise shockingly dark tale of survival. The performances are as real as it can get and Joy Anwulika Alphonsus, who plays the titular character, is an electric find. Her eyes tell the story of a prostitute who wants to break free but is tied down by family responsibilities. Precious Mariam Sanusi, who plays Precious, is another terrific find and her struggle to fit in to the dirty world of trafficking and survive under harsh reality is gut-wrenching, and she portrays her helplessness beautifully. Shout-out to Sudabeh for making a very strong statement via Joy and here’s a filmmaker who wants to make a difference with her work.


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