BLOWIN’ UP

Directed by Stephanie Wang-Breal

Official Selection, 2018 Tribeca Film Festival
Official Selection, 2018 Hot Docs International Documentary Festival

A mix of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sojourner Truth, and your favorite Auntie, 53-year-old Japanese American Judge Toko Serita has figured out how to rig the system and create a human trafficking courtroom in Queens unlike any other. A place more aptly named the Justice League, where a small, urgently committed group of women are worldmaking within a famously immovable universe – the criminal court system – where they create alternate endings for what usually results in the mass incarceration of women working in a sex industry that lets men go largely unpunished.

A deeply inspiring case of ingenuity and hard work in service of human rights, the largely black and undocumented Asian defendants in Judge Serita’s court will have their slate wiped utterly clean if they agree to participate in a minimum of five counseling sessions. BLOWIN’ UP takes us through the complicated human ecosystem of effort to make this offer actually work. The dogged persistence of social workers to overcome distrust of the legal system, interviews revealing fear of courtroom ICE raids, and financial precarity that pushes women back into “the life.”

Director Stephanie Wang-Breal (Wo Ai Ni Mommy, SDAFF ’10) softly parachutes into the courtroom with Robert Altman’s eye for detail, the sense of high stakes alongside morning chats with the bailiff. Presiding over it all, Judge Serita redefines how a courtroom feels. She asks how defendants are doing. Deals are struck. Processing is fast tracked to help with financial aid. A courtroom fills with applause. Likewise, Wang-Breal’s care extends to avoiding judgment about sex work, rarely using “prostitute” or victim frameworks. This is a film made by women about women, who are working with all their effort and rooting, ultimately, for each other.

– Christina Ree

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