In Stephanie Wang Breal’s carefully crafted documentary, the daily rhythms of a Queens County courtroom become as hypnotic as they are chaotic. Intimate in scope and the first of its kind, “Blowin’ Up” takes viewers inside the country’s first courtroom dedicated to those arrested on sex trafficking charges, otherwise known as prostitution. From the DA to the social workers to the defendants, the court (and the film) is almost entirely populated with women; presided over by the Honorable Toko Serita, who rules her roost with a gentle but firm iron fist.
The official synopsis reads: “In 2004, the United States’ first problem-solving court around prostitution was created in Queens County, New York. The court, presided over by the Honorable Toko Serita, attempts to redress the way women and young girls arrested for prostitution are shuffled through the criminal justice system. With unparalleled access to the workings of the court, ‘Blowin’ Up’ captures what it feels like to go through these criminal proceedings as a female defendant. The overwhelming majority of women arrested are undocumented Asian immigrants, black, Latina and transgender youth. We hear directly from these women, in their own words, and we begin to understand the complex scenarios that bring them into the courtroom. As the film progresses, and a new administration takes over in the White House in 2016, the courtroom’s fragile ecosystem is tested and the fates of those who pass through become less certain.”
In my review of the film out of its 2018 Tribeca Film Festival review, I wrote that “Wang-Breal approaches the vastly misunderstood topic of sex work from a non-judgmental feminist perspective. … ‘Blowin’ Up” has no judgment about what these women do to survive or make a living.”
This is Wang Breal’s third feature film, following 2010’s “Woi ai ni (I Love You) Mommy” and 2014’s “Tough Love,” both of which were released by POV. Her production company, Once in a Blue, will release “Blowin’ Up” theatrically in New York on April 5 and Los Angeles on April 12.
Check out the trailer for “Blowin’ Up” (including an explanation of the snappy title) below.