Film & TV

Human trafficking in Taken: do movies cheapen serious issues?

What makes a powerful film? Is it one that we lose ourselves in, allowing us to escape from daily life? Or is it one that teaches us, bringing real issues into sharp focus? Released in 2008, Taken deals with people trafficking; the movement of people across borders by deception or force for exploitation. This high budget action-thriller was recently presented by the stopthetraffik student society for the UoN SEEN (Student environment and ethics network) film festival. As a high-profile film tackling trafficking, it seemed the obvious choice. But does an action-thriller with a happy ending cheapen the horrific reality of the modern-day slave trade?

Trafficking is a massive global industry. Slavery is in no way a thing of the past; the amount of money that changed hands for people in 2010 was more than for drugs, worldwide. People are trafficked across borders and sold into the sex trade and the cocoa industry, alongside smaller industries like making mobile phones or working in agriculture. It is highly likely that something you ate or touched today has trafficking in it, because it affects so many areas of commerce.

One way of preventing trafficking is awareness. If Western consumers refuse to buy chocolate with trafficking in it, the pressure put on companies like Cadbury and Mars will force them to change their labour methods. Likewise, widespread condemnation of sex trafficking will put pressure on governments and law enforcement organisations to prevent it, instead of accepting it and in many countries, taking a cut of the profits.

A film like Taken has the potential to influence millions of people. Addressing these issues could create the kind of pressure that has the power to change the trafficking industry. But does the way the issues are conveyed undermine their reality? Of course showing a film of what actually happens; a young girl goes on holiday, gets taken and is never heard from again, is lacking in plot. But the alternative presented in Taken; the girl’s ex-CIA agent father kills most of the generic Europeans he meets until he rescues her, returning her safely and smiling to Los Angeles, seems a long way off the reality of trafficking.

Perhaps the action-thriller angle, co-written by Luc Bessan and directed by Pierre Morle, means it will reach a wider audience. Liam Neeson’s father character, the ex-spy, was possibly a necessary creation, because few other people would ever find his daughter. The levels of trafficking, the number of people that a trafficker is passed to and from, are huge. This makes it nigh impossible to trace a victim and corruption means official methods often lead to dead ends. But the smiling reunion at the airport casually forgets the best friend who dies, tied to a bed in a brothel with a heroine needle fallen from her grasp. Where were her parents? Doesn’t this nicely tied-up happy ending forget the real example of trafficking, someone who disappeared frighteningly quickly and ended life as another statistic?

If a film like Taken presents trafficking as an underworld crime, one that only affects those who live in criminal communities, then its potential awareness is futile. Trafficking affects all levels of society. Glamorizing a non-existent solution such as the ex-spy father figure depicts trafficking as inevitable and by perpetuating this attitude, it may be that Taken is doing more harm than good. How can films aid a cause like the prevention of trafficking? Do films that tackle important global issues have a duty to educate their audience?

Find out more about human trafficking at

Kat Dixon

Film & TV

Tom is a budding film reviewer, hell bent on providing informed opinions on the latest movie releases to those who need them, whether they like it or not.

6 Comments on this post.
  • Nikita
    4 December 2011 at 13:03
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    Another, perhaps more appropriate film ,is The Jammed. Directed by Dee McLachlan, an Australian director who manages to make a realistic film which is compelling and not without bit of hope. I remember it being brutal though. Here’s the wiki:

  • Donna
    5 December 2011 at 16:24
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    I don’t know about cheapening it, but this particular portrayal – focused on the father’s heroics – definitely gives a distorted picture. And, the fact that so many people have seen it, gives those folks a distorted understanding of how we might eradicate trafficking.

  • Dee
    8 December 2011 at 23:20
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    So nice to read Nikita’s comment. If you send us a postal address we will send you a signed copy of The Jammed.

  • Kat
    12 December 2011 at 18:32
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    Thanks for the comments – much appreciated. And thank you so much Dee – our editor has contacted your publicity department, and we should be running a follow-up feature on it!

  • Gary
    24 July 2013 at 11:02
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    Surely, if anything, the film raises awareness of the epidemic of human trafficking. I understand we are not as special trained as Liam Neeson in this film.

    The question is how do we eradicate a virus such as this? We haven’t ever managed to eradicate drugs, on our streets or in society.

  • Tara
    6 April 2015 at 02:28
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    I’d also like to chip in with another film that is based on a true story, therefore very hard hitting. The Whistleblower followed a UN peacekeeper trying to shut down a sex-trafficking ring with the UN SFOR turning a blind eye – really hard to watch at points but largely very accurate. Hope this helps!

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