Critics pan Rambo's 'wrongheaded' sex trafficking tale

by Oscar Lopez | @oscarlopezgib | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 25 September 2019 14:22 GMT

72nd Cannes Film Festival - Photocall Rendez-vous With Sylvester Stallone for the film "Rambo V: Last Blood" - Cannes, France, May 24, 2019. Sylvester Stallone poses with Paz Vega. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

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Critics say blockbusters are miseducating the public about the $150 billion-a-year industry, in which 40 million people worldwide are enslaved, by focusing on the sex trafficking of young women

By Oscar Lopez

MEXICO CITY, Sept 25 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Film critics and trafficking experts have lambasted the latest Rambo film for focusing on the sex trade, which they say is inaccurate and oversimplifies human trafficking.

"Rambo: Last Blood", which opened last week, follows Sylvester Stallone in the title role to Mexico to rescue a young girl trapped in a sex trafficking ring. Her death spurs the Vietnam veteran to take a bloody revenge on the traffickers.

"It was so completely wrongheaded and irresponsibly done that whatever possible grain of truth and relevance there could've been was stamped out," said Claudia Puig, president of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.

"The coverage particularly of the sex trafficking, it felt like it was just used as a plot point for (Rambo) to unleash his vengeance ... If you're going to cover sex trafficking in any way, let's make it more fully explored and nuanced and complex."

Human trafficking has become a popular theme in Hollywood, with the box office hit "Taken" establishing Liam Neeson as an action star in the role of a former CIA agent searching for his trafficked daughter.

But critics say such blockbusters are miseducating the public about the $150 billion-a-year industry, in which 40 million people worldwide are enslaved, by focusing on the sex trafficking of young women.

"Women and girls are at risk, that is true. But men, boys, transgender people, are all exploited in human trafficking," said Jonathan Todres, a law professor at Georgia State University who has written extensively on child trafficking.

"Human trafficking is not just about sex, it's about trafficking in a broad array of labour sectors. All of those individuals, all of those experiences, are written out of the Hollywood version."

Rambo's latest mission - co-written by Stallone - to save an American girl who is kidnapped while searching for her father in Mexico does not represent the reality of U.S. trafficking, critics said.

Children in welfare, runaways, migrants, LGBT+ people and American Indians are among the most vulnerable, U.S. government data shows.

While Hollywood is merely seeking to entertain, it could lead to public pressure on policy makers to take the wrong type of action, said Todres.

"When the general public has a misunderstanding of what the problem is, based on some inaccuracies in popular portrayals ... that increases the risk that responses we develop from a policy perspective will reflect that reality," he said.

Maria Olga Noriega, a trafficking expert at Mexico's National Institute of Penal Sciences, said Hollywood's confusion reflects a similar lack of clarity among Mexican authorities.

Estimates on the number of Mexican trafficking victims range from 50,000 to 500,000, according to the National Human Rights Commission, as data is scarce and the legal definition is broad.

"Unfortunately, if authorities don't understand the crime of trafficking, if we can't agree on a definition ... what can we expect from a film?" she asked.

"We're just going round in circles." (Reporting by Oscar Lopez, editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit

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