Survivors of sexual exploitation address the reality of being a woman in poverty through film In the midst of celebrity outcry over sexual misconduct in Hollywood, one film has emerged to address the conditions faced by the silent majority. ‘Hold Me Down’ is based on the experiences of Unique Adams, a single mother from the South Bronx, New York, whose experiences of childhood poverty and abuse lead her into prostitution in early adolescence. “This film will be our voice”, says Adams. According to a report by the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, more than half of all women of color in the United States will experience some form of sexual violence in their lives. All the parts in the film are played by women survivors from the Bronx, none of whom had ever acted before. “We have to be the ones that is looking out for each other”, says Tianna Allen, 19, who plays the lead role.
Hold Me Down depicts a day in the life of a 19-year-old single mother who works as a stripper at an illegal nightclub to support her child in the South Bronx. It is filmed in the locations where the events depicted actually occurred; in the Mott Haven Housing Projects and in an actual brothel, and features a cast of non-actors / women survivors of sexual exploitation and domestic violence.
“A window into a life lead by millions of women in the shadows of mainstream America.” – Odense International Film Festival
On International Women’s Day, the Nordic International Film Festival and Project Rousseau presented the US premiere of Hold Me Down to critical acclaim.
Referred to as “the premiere talent to watch” by Nike in 2017, Swedish writer-director Niclas Gillis first became aware of the harsh conditions faced by women in poverty in the United States back in 2009 when a former classmate invited him to what he thought would be a regular house party in Harlem, but that proved to be an illicit event similar to the one depicted in the film. He was nineteen years old, and what he witnessed shocked him to the extent that he would spend the next five years researching the issue, and the subsequent three making a film addressing it. After moving to the Bronx in 2014, Gillis interviewed hundreds of local women survivors to craft the story, ensure its authenticity, and assemble the cast.
“We wanted the women who really live this life to have the opportunity to tell their own story, to raise awareness of the conditions that they face and inspire change”, Gillis says.
Thanks to a partnership with the NGO, Project Rousseau, the women involved have since been able to gain stability in their lives and are now pursuing higher education. “This is what we want to achieve on a larger scale”, says Gillis.
Hold Me Down was produced by More Media and The Collectif with support from IFP, Sveriges Television and the Swedish Film Institute. It premiered to standing ovations at the Gothenburg International Film Festival. It has been released exclusively on Vimeo and shared on the Nordic International Film Festival’s website.