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Film review: Honest Lies


Review of a short film based on a story written by a woman previously involved in prostitution.

The premiere of an 11-minute film – Honest Lies – by screenwriter and producer Gabriella Apicella, recently took place at Amnesty International’s headquarters in front of an audience of almost 200 people.

The film, funded through Kickstarter, is based upon a story written by Anita James during a writing workshop run by Apicella and Eaves.

The film focuses on a meeting in a cafe between Sophie, a prostituted woman, and a client’s wife.

The meeting between the two women is tense, with the wife – portrayed as a well-off, middle class woman – expressing her hurt and bewilderment to Sophie at finding out her husband has been purchasing sex.

As Rachel Moran, author of ‘Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution’, said: “Honest lies is a short, sad look into the emotional and psychological impact of commercial sexual exploitation and, crucially, it reveals who bears the brunt of that cost.

“The film explores the collision of two women’s lives; one who’s been sexually exploited and another whose marriage has been ripped apart because of it.

“Written by a prostitution survivor, it’s little wonder it provokes a compassionate and rounded reaction.”

What struck me about Sophie’s portrayal was how welcome it is – in essence an ordinary woman, walking through the street towards the meeting, unremarked by passers by.

In this, the portrayal is unusual when set against the typical ‘glamorous belle de jour’, or ‘bending into a car’ tropes.

Also unusual is the meeting itself, which encapsulates the pain of two women – from different walks of life  – when brought together through a man’s entitlement to sex.

Silvia Murray Wakefield, Chair of Object, echoes this: “Honest Lies gives an authentic voice to the women whose lives have been marred and shaped by the destructive nature of prostitution.

“Being based on a story written by someone who has lived these truths, it conveys the harm to a person’s selfhood and self-determination that is implicit in prostitution, through the depiction of two women forced into opposition because of a man’s freedom to purchase sex.”

Heather Harvey from Eaves said: “I love the film because it is so refreshing and unexpected coming from the perspectives of the women and specifically from Sophie – the woman involved in prostitution.

“I feel the meeting and the discomfort of them both is a testament to the continuum of women’s experience of inequality. It shows the importance for women to be in control of their own story and how it’s told.”

For Apicella, the aim of the film is to give a voice to women involved in prostitution and also to open discussions of the subject.

“The woman who wrote Honest Lies, and others who attended the writing workshop for women exiting prostitution, have told me that nobody cares about their stories,” she explained.

“Making this film began as an opportunity to demonstrate that is not the case.

“It has already become a tool to inform people about the realities of prostitution, and open discussions of this subject.

“I hope that it will continue to be used in this way, and be seen by industry peers as a useful contribution to honest onscreen portrayals of complex stories about female characters.”

The premiere featured speakers Fiona McTaggert MP; UK Feminista’s founder Kat Banyard; Eaves’ Exiting Prostitution Development Worker Cheryl Stafford, and writer and campaigner, Ruth Jacobs.

There were some criticisms of the discussion generated by the speakers at the premiere by Alex Bryce, manager of the National Ugly Mugs Scheme run by the UK Network of Sex Work Projects.

He questioned findings from Eaves in 2012 that showed 92 per cent of prostitutes wanting to exit immediately, arguing that this stance does not take into account the diverse nature of the business.

Bryce said, “There is a tendency amongst those advocating criminalisation to use research focusing purely on street sex workers and suggest misleadingly that the findings are a reflection of the industry as a whole.

“In fact, street sex workers form a minority of the overall sex worker population in the UK – estimated as low as 10-12 per cent in some studies.”

In contrast, the speakers at the premiere were clear that, for them, whether women were street workers or not, the practice of prostitution is part of a society that permits the exploitation of women, and using words such as ‘agency’ and ’empowerment’ only masks the reality that underpins the industry: the pursuance of profit based on the purchase of sex as a human right.

However, the film itself steers clear of these kind of arguments – for example, it is not clear whether Sophie works primarily indoors or on the street, and there is no mention of what led to her into prostitution.

And, in so doing, the film concentrates on the inequalities that women face – prostituted woman or not – as a result of men’s entitlement to sex.

The film, which is not yet available for public consumption, has so far been screened at the London Screenwriters’ Festival, the UnderWire Festival and has been entered for next year’s Birds’ Eye View Film Festival.


Note: the term ‘prostituted woman’ has been used to reflect the preference of the writer of the original story.

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