"Call and Response": A Review
Today, thanks to cell phones, we have information in the palm of our hands. Ask a question, and in less than a second, you can have an answer from multiple sources. So why does human trafficking go unrecognized in our world? Justin Dillon wanted to find an answer and took a leap by creating a documentary while utilizing the power of music to connect with the audience. He called it a “rockumentary”.
In 2008, Call + Response was released by Fair Trade Pictures to educate viewers on the crisis of human trafficking. Justin Dillon debuted as a director receiving national recognition for his documentary and activism. With noteworthy speakers such as Dr. Cornel West, Ambassador John Miller, and Madeleine Albright, the film exposes this deep-rooted issue on a local and global scale in the 21st century.
What made this documentary stand out was its ability to modernize the abolitionist movement. Often times, people tend to turn a blind eye to an issue if it doesn’t personally affect their lives. This rockumentary brought in familiar artists that are found in our Spotify playlists to enlighten us about human trafficking and show that they too are here to fight. Performances by Natasha Bedingfield, Switchfoot, and Cold War Kids make one reconsider the message behind the lyrics as they sing along. By having this internal conversation sparked by a familiar song, a seed is planted.
"What made this documentary stand out was its ability to modernize the abolitionist movement. Often times, people tend to turn a blind eye to an issue if it doesn’t personally affect their lives."
Justin Dillon, director of the film, was confronted with the issue when he visited Russia and saw how young girls’ desire to come to the U.S. often resulted in them walking the streets that never rest. Their dreams of becoming a pop star or actress filled their walls and tempted them to travel to a far away and glamorous land. He realized how these dreams are often what leads them into the hands of traffickers through deception. He started to question what he could do to understand, help, and apply his talent to bring justice? So, he did what he knew best and responded with music. With no idea what would become of the project, he sent out the word for artists to sing in his film in an effort to raise awareness. After understanding the girls' longings for a better life, he wanted to ensure that singers from all over the world were here to support them. One young girl, in particular, was imprisoned in a 4ft x 8ft stall where she took her clients. “I wanted that little girl to write a song, write it on a piece of paper, fold it into a paper airplane and throw it out the window into the hands of someone who cares,” said Dillon.
“I wanted that little girl to write a song, write it on a piece of paper, fold it into a paper airplane and throw it out the window into the hands of someone who cares,” said Dillon.
In the documentary, Dillon speaks to the connection between music and slavery through the course of history. Dark days, oppression, and being undervalued has influenced the creation and direction of Blues, Jazz, and Rock which can be traced back to the slave trade. Dr. Cornel West explains how a Blue’s note is a “note of dissonance that shatters visual melody. It’s a note of dignity.” This dissonance speaks volumes to the unharmonious relationships that live in our world today. Yet, that sound that doesn’t seem to quite fit in can also be seen as a step in a new and better direction. What Dr. West is speaking to is that one note in a song has a story and a purpose to redefine the direction of the song just as each person has a right to freedom and living out their story.
Artist Emmanuel Jal was a child soldier and claims that Hip Hop saved his life. He sings of his experiences in war zones with fellow children in hopes to make a difference. Images of children holding guns fill the screen while he reflects on his times of fear and enslavement. He believes music has the capacity to find its way into someone’s heart and mind without having to give permission. Music serves as “unarmed truth, unconventional love, unadulterated justice; it’s about unadorned beauty” says Dr. West.
"One note in a song has a story and a purpose to redefine the direction of the song just as each person has a right to freedom and living out their story."
Real footage of brothels and unethical working conditions overcome the screen in this documentary as the music becomes a chant for justice in the background. Children eagerly approach men to offer their sexual services in order to pay off their trafficker. It’s heart-wrenching to hear the living conditions and abuse each one has had to go through and often at a very young age. The footage and performances are filmed in black and white while the interviews are all in color. This contrast seems to represent the different perspectives and forthcomings in the world of human trafficking. To traffickers, this is strictly business. How can they attain the most profit through their tax-free “products”? On the other hand, abolitionists view this as an outdated crisis. In the 21st century, it’s appalling this issue continues to exist. It represents the middle ground of where we currently stand, obliviousness and despair.
Call + Response was one of the year’s top documentaries stirring up emotions and crafting advocates. By using music as the foundation, Justin Dillon raised his voice to share the hope of harmony. In the wake of the release, he founded Made in a Free World which would be the first Slavery Footprint software to protect against purchasing from human right abusive origins. It has won awards from SXSW, been featured in the Huffington Post, CNN, and New York Times, and has been presented in the White House, Vatican, and United Nations. Dillon is a true abolitionist and an inspiration for us all to step up, raise our voice, and support one another in life.
Below I have curated a playlist of songs from Call + Response. I hope this music helps you reflect on the change needed and ignites a desire to be a voice for those who are unheard.
You can watch the Call + Response documentary by clicking here to hear the stories and songs of those who seek our help.
Cold War Kids - Hang Me Up to Dry
Matisyahu - Indestructible
Rocca Deluca - I Trust You to Kill Me
Justin Dillon - Baby Blue
Natasha Bedingfield - Soulmate
The Scrolls - Exit Music for A Film
Talib Kweli - Broken Glass
Five for Fighting – World
Switchfoot - Awakening
Works Progress Administration - Rise Up
Natasha Bedingfield - Unwritten
Cold War Kids - We Used to Vacation
Rocca Deluca/ Justin Dillon - I Am an Abolitionist
Matisyuha - Redemption Song
You can view Call and Response by following the link below:
About the Author
My name is Holly and my roots lie in sunny California. I started an ethical travel blog with my friend focusing on crafting adventures and shedding light on the footprints tourism leaves behind in communities around the world. This sparked my passion for advocating. In my free time, you can find me water coloring, trying out breweries and planning my next trip!