Joy Review: A Harsh and Sobering Look At Sex Trafficking

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: May 24, 2019
Joy Netflix Film Review


Sudabeh Mortezai’s Joy is a bleak and provocative film exploring the harsh realities of the sex trade.

There’s nothing glamorous about Austrian-Iranian filmmaker Sudabeh Mortezai’s Joy, which debuted on Netflix today. A bleak and sobering glimpse into the grim underworld of sex trafficking, it’s a provocative and artful film, with a compelling character study at its heart and a deep, roiling sadness in its guts. But it’ll probably be a tough sit for general audiences who aren’t as taken with its aesthetic techniques and the possibly all-too-real story it wants to tell.

That story concerns the titular Joy, played somewhat amazingly by newcomer Anwulika Alphonsus, a Nigerian woman indebted to a madame (Angela Ekeleme Pius) and trying to settle permanently in Europe. This performance is magnetic and as quietly impressive as any you’ll see, but will obviously go mostly overlooked. But Joy’s warmth and authenticity are riveting, especially once she’s grooming a new Nigerian girl, Precious (Mariam Sanusi, also excellent, and also a non-professional) for prostitution.

The strength of Joy is in the clash of self-preservation and morality; of doing the right thing for oneself or for others. The essential strength of womanhood and the protective pull of motherhood are both present and compelling, enhanced by excellent cinematography and the willingness to let long instances of silence and deliberation speak for themselves. Mortezai’s direction works to highlight the film’s innate contradictions and juxtapositions; a treasure trove of small details for those who like to unpack such things.

For those who don’t, Joy is a tougher sell. The honesty and humanity of its story are universal, but perhaps a bit too low-key to be as engaging as they might have been. As a character study, though, it’s a really good one, with an unsentimental approach and a helping of technical craftsmanship on display throughout. One imagines this is a film that won’t do much for Netflix’s user base, but those in the market for the kind of experience it provides won’t be disappointed by it.

Movie Reviews, Movies, Netflix

5 thoughts on “Joy Review: A Harsh and Sobering Look At Sex Trafficking

  • June 1, 2019 at 2:19 am

    As a sex trade survivor, I am grateful for movies portraying the truth about “sex work” that most people don’t want to know (for instance, that when sex is “work” it’s abuse, and that sexual consent can never be bought – only sexual submission can be bought). But middle class Americans are addicted to their porn, and most would rather pretend that “sex workers” are “asking for it” when we are really acting out of pure desperation.

    • June 12, 2019 at 2:23 am

      I can only image in the horror of being trapped in this situation! This is the 2nd or 3rd (perhaps more?) well-done film I’ve seen on the subject. Not being a complacent dumbed-down North American I feel it’s vital to expose this invisible crime syndicate and to highlight the fact that any vulnerable girl or boy can be abducted into it. No one deserves this!!!! To add insult to injury, I understand that when traffickers are caught, they spend a scant 4-6 years in prison. How does this compare to the obscene conviction times of a drug trafficker? Incredible! The fish stinks from the head down.

  • June 12, 2019 at 8:34 am

    Can someone please explain the ending of the movie after she is deported. Why is all these women standind around with stacks of cash and who are these well dressed people sposed to be that walk past her when the scene first starts out and what type of celebration is going on, why? And who are these fat older women that are just tossing money on the ground around the dancers with no regard is it a show of wealth are the madams or is this how the families treat the money that their daughters are making from hooking. Does anyone really know exactly whats going on i mean it’s obvious she was trying to get back to where she was before being deported but with all that cash she has why would she need to start sex trade all over again just to get back.

    • June 12, 2019 at 6:27 pm

      Its a ceremony which is common and a popular tradition. Spraying the money in the air (by rich people) is meant to just show off and becomes a competition. at the same time it can be a gift to the organizer of the event and mostly used to pay for the entertainment. Women who come back from Europe are seen as a failure and scum of society. They get rejected and abandoned by their families. The women cant bear the shame and feel they cant gain anything there so they become easy victims of traffickers again.

  • June 29, 2019 at 2:00 am

    This movie made me mad because even if it happens in the world it’s traumatizing to watch a little girl be raped .. you have to understand how other will feel a type of way about it , this is hurtful

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