During his tenure on America’s Next Top Model, fashion photographer Nigel Barker was perennially kind, steady and honest to the young female contestants—making him an antidote to Tyra Banks wonderfully crazy antics. Barker brought that same ethos to a talkback after a performance of Trafficked, a play about sex slavery and child exploitation, at the Bleecker Street Theatre on Thursday night. But this time, unlike his many countless panels on ANTM, Barker was brought to tears by the ensemble cast of local 15 to 21-year-old girls who wrote and performed in the work. (The piece was also put on by the Project Girl Performance Collective.)
“This doesn’t happen too often,” Barker said, choking back tears on stage with the cast. “I’m kind of embarrassed to be a guy right now.”
Barker admitted that he works in industries—photography, fashion and advertising—notorious for its exploitation of women. “The first thing you learn is ‘sex sells,’” noted Barker.
He added that even though he comes from a privileged, educated and church going background the issue of sex trafficking or slavery never came to the fore until he started to do human rights advocacy work in adulthood.
“This issue is seen as being simply unsavory . . . not for polite discussion, but this play pulls the cover on it,” Barker said. “This show needs to be seen by men . . . because men need to be better men.”
Barker, along with several audience members, noted that men need to be brought into the larger discussion not only of sex trafficking but treatment the overall treatment of women in society as well. But some asserted, that the pathos of men and boys will not change until you have a famous athlete, singer or actor publicly coming out against the mistreatment of women.
Some of the cast members, however, believe the tide is changing. A few attended a recent downtown rally against Backpages.com, a site known to play a large role in the sex trafficking of young and under-age women.
“At the protest, it was moving to see that there were a lot of men there,” said one actress. “But this play still needs to be seen and read by people who aren’t socially aware.
Trafficked will hold its last performance this Saturday, June 23, at 1:30 p.m. To purchase tickets or learn more about the play visit www.projectgirlperformancecollective.org.
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