Trapped in prostitution in the Amazon

Helena Spriet
14 October 2019
By the name of Tania takes the viewer on a tragic journey of exploitation. With their film, directors Bénédicte Liénard and Mary Jiménez want to wake up the viewer and confront him with the reality of horrible exploitation in Peru.

'There is a place where rich men live. They are so rich that they sprinkle the girls they like with gold dust.' Tempted by this story, Tania leaves for the gold mines, where she is forced into prostitution.

At the police station, Tania tells what she has been through. She tries to be as accurate as possible, but has trouble calling the order and details of what happened to mind. Flashbacks run through her head: her grandmother’s death, the friendly transgender who she met and who eventually pushes her towards sex working and slavery, dancing with the other girls, her beloved Ruben, … Thinking of those terrible events makes everything go blurry. Slowly, her mind tears itself away from her body and she starts to lose her own identity.

By the name of Tania tells the story of a Peruvian girl who winds up in the clutches of forced prostitution through human trafficking. The film will be released in the Belgian cinemas on 23 October.

Tania at the police station
© Clin d'oeil films

Prostitution and exploitation: the dark side of the Amazon

As a viewer, you instantly feel connected to Tania. Just like her, you get carried away in the process of dehumanisation. Bénédicte Liénard and Mary Jiménez, the two directors of By the name of Tania, denounce the appalling situation in Peru, where human trafficking and exploitation are still all too common. In difficult living conditions, women's bodies are often the first to be exploited.

'Multinationals hire miners to exploit gold mines in isolated places, often deep in the Amazon', says Liénard. 'As a result, large groups of men live isolated in the middle of nowhere. These areas become figurative gold mines for pimps, who set up bars and brothels, often employing vulnerable underage girls, so that miners can relax after work'. Once the girls, lured by pimps and their fairytale stories, live there, they can no longer escape. In the middle of the Amazon, surrounded by mafia, they get entangled in the net of slavery.

Once the girls, lured by pimps and their fairytale stories, live there, they can no longer escape. In the middle of the Amazon, surrounded by mafia, they get entangled in the net of slavery.

Most of these girls are underage. As soliciting underage girls for prostitution is illegal, it is difficult to put a figure on the number of victims. Although the Peruvian government is aware of the gravity and extent of the situation, it rarely intervenes. The police lacks manpower and resources and both the mines and the Amazon are almost completely taken over by the mafia.

The miners also get exploited. While making their previous film, Sobre las brasas, Liénard and Jiménez found out how fascinated many Peruvians are by the search for gold. They dream of becoming rich. Liénard: 'But this is a myth, a myth about wealth. The quest for gold becomes an addiction, like drugs. In miserable conditions, the miners keep digging for gold until they are exhausted.'


New approach: between facts and fiction

Deep down, we are aware that such situations exist, but we often try to push them to the background of our consciousness. To change that, Bénédicte Liénard and Mary Jiménez propose a new approach: the hybrid film. The two women see two approaches film directors can adopt: making a film ABOUT the other or making a film WITH the other. Liénard and Jiménez resolutely choose the latter. 

Close-up of Tania during the evening with trees in the background
© Clin d'oeil films

By the name of Tania is neither a documentary nor fiction, but something in between. Tania's character is based on several testimonials. In other words, the story depicts the life many young girls in Peru actually live. Lydia, who plays the role of Tania, was sexually abused in real life, while police officer Vázquez plays himself. The directors found inspiration in the testimonials he had collected on a USB stick and did extensive research into similar stories.


Living an experience

Liénard and Jiménez want the viewer to live the experience, to feel what Tania is going through. They refuse to show explicit images, because these tend too much towards voyeurism. Film is a medium that allows the viewer to learn through feelings or experience, making the eventual impact much bigger, according to the two women. We are already familiar with the story of a woman being forced into prostitution. It is the personal experience that has to appeal to and touch the viewer. The two directors want the viewer to understand that a process of dehumanisation is taking place: an adolescent is turned into a slave who can then no longer escape from slavery. By disentangling this process, they want to emancipate the viewer.

According to the directors, surviving the harrowing situation in Peru almost requires detaching mind from body. Moreover, the film uses the images of the Amazon as a metaphor for Tania's psychological journey.

Tania looks at the Amazon through the window of a boat
© Clin d'oeil films

International success

The directors want to raise awareness of the problem, something they succeeded in doing at the screening of the film in Lima. Many Peruvians were not yet aware of the problem or intentionally ignored it. Internationally too, the film has been well-received. It had its world premiere at the prestigious Berlinale film festival, while at the FIFF, the International Francophone Film Festival at Namur, it won the special jury prize and a prize for the best photography. Currently it is being shown at many well-known film festivals around the world. By the name of Tania will be released in the Belgian cinemas on 23 October.


A better life for employees

The two directors do not limit themselves to shooting a film, they also try to better the lives of the actors who participate in it. In a group, clearly visible to everyone, they pay their employees a limited amount (according to local standards) every day to learn them how to deal with a budget. 'At the end of the project, the main actors receive a small capital. We make sure that the protagonists can study. For instance, we paid for the studies of Lidia (Tania) and of Fiorella (the transgender girl).' Making the film therefore ensures that the people who participate in it are emancipated. 'We are committed women, both ethically and politically, and we hope to have a positive impact on the people who participate in the film.'


The Belgian Development Cooperation spent 35,000 euros on the realisation of By the name of Tania. Would you like to know more about the Belgian Development Cooperation's support for films? Read Film: a weapon of mass education in global citizenship.

World citizenship Peru Women's rights
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