In her new film Traffik, Paula Patton plays a woman who becomes the target of human trafficking.
She portrays Brea opposite Omar Epps’ John. They go for a romantic weekend in the mountains, but are accosted by a biker gang who they must then defend themselves against.
Patton says she signed on to the film because she was attracted to the role and the idea of working with director Deon Taylor, but she hadn’t fully considered the implications of the heavier aspects of the subject matter. “I didn’t really know much about it at all to be honest with you,” she says in regards to the issue of human trafficking. “I knew it existed. I did not know to what degree. My interest in the project really came from wanting to be a part of something that would be an entertaining piece that would be exciting to make and challenging. What was the added value was learning and discovering this world.”
EW called up Patton to get her take on the film prior to its release on Friday, along with discussing what she learned while making it and if the experience has increased her own activism.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you get involved with the film?
PAULA PATTON: When they were scheduled to make the film, I was making another film. But as these things often happen, that movie fell through right before this one was about to go. [Director Deon Taylor] had not yet chosen an actress. They were, I think, 10 days away from starting, and I said, “But I can do it,” and he said, “OK P, let’s go.” And that’s what happened.
Did you know a lot already about the subject of human trafficking? Was it a cause you were already invested in or doing work on?
No. I didn’t really know much about it at all to be honest with you. I knew it existed. I did not know to what degree. My interest in the project really came from wanting to be a part of something that would be an entertaining piece that would be exciting to make and challenging. What was the added value was learning and discovering this world. This was one truly one of the most compelling elements in the end, and it became this fire that drove the crew and the cast. It feels like you’re a part of something a little bit bigger and you want to do it justice, but you want to have fun with it, which is a strange thing to say. But we have to deal with these realities in life and how do we bring it to an audience and bring it awareness and not have people go “I don’t feel like dealing with that. I want to turn off from that.” How do you turn them onto it?
While working on the project, what were some of the most eye-opening things you learned?
The way the network works and how vast it is. It’s second to arms dealing in terms of the money it generates, which was shocking. Potentially we’ve given it this name, sex trafficking, human trafficking, but it’s slavery. Period. We need to see it as a far-reaching subject matter that doesn’t just talk about it as a kidnapping, but also the unfair treatment of people. When you’ve taken away their free will essentially.
Did you work with any specific organizations that are trying to combat this for research, etc. during the shooting process?
There’s many groups that helped aid us in our research and our knowledge. When I started to think about this, it all became so overwhelming and I came to realize that I don’t know if this is something you can fix, but it really needs to be about prevention. For me, as I go forward and want to effect change in the world, the only way that we’re going to solve this potentially is by being proactive and getting in when children are young and teaching them the power of their mind and to be confident. To be a free thinker, not to be easily manipulated. Oftentimes what happens is these people are easily manipulated and they don’t have the resources to protect themselves. They don’t have the mental resources.
If people see the film, and they want to get involved with an organization or prevention in some way – what would you recommend they do?
I would really just encourage people to ask what do they want to do? What are they comfortable doing within themselves? Within their own community? Sometimes you need to start your own thing. You have to look inside yourself. What’s really exciting to me is young people and young people’s minds that have not yet been corrupted by this world we’ve been living in for so long. And the lies we have been telling for so very long. I get uncomfortable or nervous about any organization at this time. I really want to encourage freedom of thought in people and in myself and to develop new things and new ideas and new organizations. There’s a spirit in the air in spite of these heartless, unkind people that are running our country right now. It’s forcing other people to be more kind and more passionate. I truly believe there’s a new movement afoot with young people and older. I don’t know what organization that might get into. I’m hoping there might be new organizations. One with less big black tie parties and such.
After making the film, do you feel there are warning signs or alarm bells you’d advise people to look out for in their daily lives if they want to be aware this is happening around them?
When [people] are really desperate for love or attention, you know, they’re easy targets, that’s one thing. Other people, they’re just walking. There’s a woman who was just jogging in the park here — she was snatched up. It’s one of those very odd issues that seems to affect a lot of people, but more often than not it is young people with corruptible minds that don’t seem to have families around to protect them or a community or systems in place. There’s not enough family support or community support. So many people are out on an island alone, and that’s one of the things I’m moved by the most is how do we come together? How do we create more community, more togetherness, more of what makes us similar? So people have somebody that can keep an eye on you and see when things are going in a different direction.