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‘Faith is Really the Strongest Healer’: MAYA Creator Explains Heart Behind Movie

Photo from Julia Verdin’s Instagram

‘Faith is Really the Strongest Healer’: MAYA Creator Explains Heart Behind Movie

By Movieguide® Contributor

MAYA director Julia Verdin described the process of creating her movie about human trafficking and explained why she included a faith aspect in the characters’ recovery.

When a 15-year old, seeking an escape from her alcoholic mother’s abusive boyfriend, is lured into a sex trafficking scheme by a man she met online, she must realize the difference between love and manipulation to return to those who care,” a summary reads.

To create the movie, Verdin talked with many experts in the field who have worked for years to fight human trafficking. She also met with survivors of human trafficking to make sure the movie honored their stories.

“I had one of the former trafficking detectives, you know, who works in the trafficking unit as a consultant on the project,” Verdin told Bond On Cinema. “I went down to their offices and I met a bunch of other detectives [and] they talked with me a lot about, you know, the different situations that they’d run across; common things that they’d found, you know.”

“I talked to D.A.s who’d ended up prosecuting traffickers and working with survivors and this is where I got the idea for the Stockholm aspect of the film, you know, where Maya gets attached to her trafficker and so when she has been rescued, she doesn’t want to be rescued, she wants to stay with him,” she continued.

Unfortunately, this is an extremely common occurrence because of the way that being trafficked destroys a person’s self-esteem. Verdin hopes that her movie can help build up victims of human trafficking and help them see that they are not alone.

Another focus of Verdin’s was to portray the horrors of human trafficking while still making the movie digestible for a wide audience.

“I think that one of the challenges when you make a film about, you know, tough subjects like trafficking is you want to give the audience enough that it’s shocking but not too much that it becomes unwatchable,” she said. “Before I made this movie, I did a lot of research on audience responses to other movies on the topic, and a lot of them said, ‘You know, I know how important the subject matter was, but it was just too gratuitous. I just couldn’t watch it.’”

With this in mind, Verdin created a powerful, educational movie that, while difficult to watch because of the nature of the subject, is not overbearing for the viewer. A portion of Movieguide®’s review reads:

MAYA was filmed in only 15 days, with fairly evident production limitations. However, the movie’s filmmakers overcome those limits with a strong story, script and performances. The subject matter of sex trafficking inherently isn’t appropriate for all ages. So, MAYA warrants extreme caution for older teenagers and adults. That said, the filmmakers don’t get too graphic in what they show. Even better, Maya and her mother derive their strength from God, not from themselves. However, MAYA also has scenes of substance abuse, though portrayed in a negative light.

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of the movie is its highlighting of the recovery process. Maya was not instantly healed after she was rescued from her trafficker. She didn’t even want to leave him because she felt safe with him, but over time, she realized what he did to her.

However, she still suffered from low self-esteem and self-worth because of the toll that being trafficked takes. It was only through the support of her mother and a refocus on faith that she was able to move on from this trauma.

“From what I’ve seen, refining faith is a big, important factor in recovery. Most of the survivors I’ve talked to said it was, you know, for them, a turning point was when they really re-found their faith, and a lot of them have a lot of help from church groups in their recovery journey,” Verdin said.

“I believe that is because they need something stronger than themselves to believe in, and faith is really the strongest healer, not just from the physical standpoint but from the emotional standpoint and spiritual standpoint,” she continued. “And to help them realize they are worthy, they are valuable, you know… they are able to do anything they set their mind to.”

“My hope is that MAYA will help educate teenagers and parents as to what trafficking looks like—when people join their voices on an issue, change is possible!” Verdin said, per EIN Newswire.

Movieguide® previously reported:

British filmmaker Julia Verdin is getting ready to release her sophomore feature, a picture intended to raise awareness about the human trafficking industry and its catastrophic effects on those trapped in it. 

Her new movie, MAYA, depicts the lengthy grooming process by which the title character, played by young actress Isabella Feliciana, is deceived into sexual slavery and her escape and tumultuous recovery process.

“I think film has a unique way of being able to educate through the audience emotionally engaging with the characters and caring about what happens,” Verdin told Movieguide®. “Film is such a powerful way to emotionally resonate with people.”

For Verdin, her fight against human trafficking and MAYA are bigger than herself.