As director Jason Lee introduced his upcoming documentary Save My Seoul to Northwestern students and community members in Harris Hall on Thursday night, he talked about how his and his collaborators’ viewpoints changed over the shooting of the film.
“We began to believe that this is the greatest issue of our time,” Lee said.
Save My Seoul is a documentary that explores prostitution and sex trafficking in South Korea. It is being produced by Jubilee Project, a nonprofit that was started by Lee, his brother Eddie, and a friend. Northwestern students and other members of the community were able to watch a rough cut of the film, which lasted about an hour.
“Films, stories, and media are such a powerful tool for our generation to do good,” Lee said, introducing his film as a tool to potentially bring about social change.
The film follows Lee and his brother as they travel to Seoul to document the issue of prostitution. While there, they meet Crystal, 16, and Esther, 19, two girls who previously had been sex workers in Seoul. The documentary focuses on sharing their past experiences, as well as uncovering the experiences of those still working in prostitution in Korea and the overlap between this work and sex trafficking.
According to Lee, the final version of the documentary will be complete in five to six months, at which time he is hoping to release it to Netflix, film festivals, and possibly movie theaters.
The screening was followed by a question and answer session with Lee and a general discussion, during which much of the conversation about the issue of prostitution and sex trafficking focused on its taboo nature in Korean culture.
“We know that it exists, but we never talk about it,” said Billy Choo, a 22-year-old graduate from the School of Education and Social Policy and Korean citizen. “I know it’s happening. I want to talk about it. But I don’t know who to talk to.”
Others attributed sex trafficking’s lack of media coverage to a general lack of awareness of the issue.
“I always have seen South Korea… as a progressive or ‘First World’ country,” said SESP senior Denise Zou. “I didn’t know that there was trafficking in Seoul.”
Yu Sun Chin, a senior in Medill and the president of student group Fight for Freedom, pointed out that sex trafficking is not something that is exclusive to South Korea.
“It’s an issue that’s not widely known about, and I think especially a lot of people don’t know this… exists in cities they live in,” Chin said.
Overall, viewers reacted positively to the documentary.
“It was powerful,” Hayley Landman, a sophomore in Weinberg, said. “I wasn’t expecting the personal approach.”
Choo said he was glad that the film allowed the girls to tell their own stories about their experiences.
“It was very to the point,” Choo said. “It’s about time that [this issue] was pulled out from under the rug.”
Save My Seoul was brought to Northwestern in honor of National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, according to Chin. The screening was attended by over 130 and was co-sponsored by Fight for Freedom, Northwestern University’s Korean American Students Association, the Asian Pacific American Coalition at Northwestern University, UNICEF NU, and the Buffett Center for International and Comparative Studies.