Shadowline Films was born out of the question “What are the underlying roots of inexplicable social injustices like gender inequality and the exploitation of the innocent?”
There are 27 million people trapped in modern-day slavery across the world today- more than any other time in history. 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders and over one million children are exploited by the global commercial sex trade every year. What could possibly make a person capable of abandoning, exploiting or even killing another innocent human being?
I had devoted the past decade to producing short promotional and documentary videos for NGOs around the world. As I observed and captured stories of human tragedy, the questions in my mind only grew. I had come to the realization that the issues that captured my heart were greater than any single organization could fight alone. A small team of filmmakers joined me to form Shadowline Films with the vision to answer these questions through a feature-length documentary.
In October 2008, the Shadowline team traveled to Africa, where there is a myth that having sex with a virgin will cure AIDS, leading to the exploitation of young girls and the spread of HIV/AIDS to the most innocent among us. We explored a story in Brazil, where indigenous tribal groups of the Amazon Basin ritualistically bury disabled infants and twins alive, to purge the tribe of curses. I had documented the Cambodian Killing Fields and the evil of genocide. It felt like I had seen the worst of humanity and what we are capable of when we allow our basic instincts of survival and power to rule us at any cost.
Five countries later, we arrived in India. There we met courageous activists willing to share their first-hand experience with gendercide, yet frustrated with the lack of support and awareness. We spoke with doctors and government officials unwilling to speak on camera. We captured tragic stories of families trapped between their desire to have daughters and the policies and cultural morays that stood in their way. One family inspired us with their courage as they endured ridicule for educating their four daughters who would otherwise be destined to marry into poverty and be subject to dowry violence.
Nothing I had seen in my travels even remotely compared to the scale of routine injustice in the practice of gendercide. That trip to India subsequently sharpened the focus of Shadowline Films on gendercide exclusively as one of the most serious abuses of human rights of our time. It was a story largely untold, and few were those speaking out, let alone putting a stop to the injustice. I thought back to the would-be plight of my wife and daughter had they been born in a son-preferential society. As the Shadowline team debriefed, it was a unanimous decision– our first documentary film must be dedicated to exposing the truth about gendercide.
Soon after, we returned to India and traveled to China to capture more stories featured in It’s a Girl. There were surprises along the way. I was shocked to learn that more girls are eliminated among the wealthier castes of India than among the poor. I was taken aback by the violent and coercive nature of the One Child Policy in China. And discovering that sex-selection is practiced among Southeast Asian immigrant communities all over the world, even in my own back yard, really brought the issue home for me.
As we prepare to release It’s a Girl, I ask myself whether or not the world will respond to our call and rise up in defense of the innocent. Our heart-felt hope and desire is that the stories of It’s a Girl will capture hearts around the world and will compel us all to rise up and launch a movement to end gender-based violence and killings and restore worth and dignity to the girls and women of India, China and of the world.
Kevin Bales of Free the Slaves
U.S. Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report: 2007
U.S. Department of State, The Facts About Child Sex Tourism: 2005
ILO, A global alliance against forced labor: 2005