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The Independent Critic

Libby Spears
NR (Contains graphic material/Mature Subject Matter)
est. 86 Mins.

 "Playground" Review 
"20-year-old Bobby Prince, a former high school sports star, was arrested for luring Wichita schoolgirls to Oklahoma, where he and his father forced them to prostitute themselves at truck stops." - The Wichita Eagle

"Wherever drugs are being sold, children are being sold."- Eileen Jacobs, FBI

"Roderick Long, 40, of Waco, Texas, was sending money to Angela McMullen in exchange for pornographic pictures of her 2-year-old daughter. Long later traveled across state lines to perform sex acts on the girl." - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

These are three stories. There are more...lots more. Here in the United States, we like to believe that child sex trafficking is an international problem. It's something that happens in other parts of the world in places like Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.

After all, there are no "red light districts" in the United States, are there?

Think again.

Atlanta, Georgia is one example. The city, a popular layover destination for the airlines, is one of the most popular cities in the world for those seeking to have sex with a tourism, they call it.

In "Playground," filmmaker Libby Spears brings to the forefront an issue that has for too long been ignored in our country because we simply don't want to believe it happens on our soil.

It does.

Every single day, children are bought and sold in this country. Every single day, children are forced into prostitution from infancy into their teen years.

Every single day.

The U.S. Department of Justice declares that the commercial sexual exploitation of children is the fastest form of organized crime in the country. Why? It's easy to get children, difficult to be detected, there's a huge profit in it and it's inexpensive to produce.

Difficult to believe?

It's true.

What Spears has created with "Playground" is one of the most accessible, easy to comprehend yet difficult to argue films ever created about the ways in which we exploit our children. Supported by the film's celebrity co-producers Steven Soderbergh, Grant Heslov and George Clooney, "Playground" powerfully blends personal experiences with a multitude of experts in the fields of justice and child welfare to put forth arguments that the United States isn't doing nearly enough to stop the sexual exploitation of children in this country even as we condemn other countries over this very issue.

Supporting the work of the Nest Foundation, an organization for which Spears serves on the board of directors and is centrally involved, "Playground" is essentially an introductory course into the sexual exploitation of children in America. Those of us, including this critic, who've been involved in the area of child abuse for any length of time are likely to consider the material contained within "Playground" as a touch basic...yet, one must remember that the majority of Americans do not yet consider this an issue in this country.

"Playground" is square one. This is what's happening in our country. From here, we can start the conversations and begin exploring what we can do.

The emotional core of the film lies in the story of Michelle, a young girl who began experiencing sexual abuse at the age of 5-years-old and has experienced sexual exploitation in a variety of forms ever since. Michelle is, sadly, a prime example of how such abuse becomes a cycle and, in turn, how the cycle gets perpetuated unless we intervene directly, intentionally and with great vigor.

To soften the often devastating impact of the material contained within Playground, Spears integrates the minimalist graphic illustrations of Yoshitomo Nara. While this approach does, indeed, allow for space to breathe throughout a very challenging film, there are times it also breaks up the emotional impact of the film and the illustrations often feel like a disconnect between scenes.

Likely a result of her celebrity producers, Spears has attracted a wide range of support from around the country including several of Hollywood's most known philanthropists including Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Abigail Disney, members of Pearl Jam, Jane Kaczmarek, Zac Posen and others. "The Playground" has a varied original soundtrack that accompanies it including tunes from Chris Martin and Coldplay, Bjork, Cat Power and others.

While "Playground" falls a touch short in fully developing the comprehensive picture of the sexual exploitation of children in America, it's doubtful that this was truly Spears' intent. Rather wisely, Spears is using "Playground" to draw in a community of supporters who will advocate for the Nest Foundation, support the film and become involved in the cause. With this support, "Playground" becomes a foundation upon which further outreach, education and awareness projects can be created.

Deeply disturbing and thought provoking, "Playground" is a vital film for anyone who truly cares about protecting the children of America.

For more information on the film and the Playground Project, visit their website.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic