by Nuha Hassan
The devastating epidemic of sex trafficking and missing Indigenous girls and women are a growing concern in the United States. In the mainstream media, missing young indigenous girls are rarely given much attention and police show little interest and regard for the missing women and girls. Since 2016, the National Crime Information Center has reported 5,712 cases of missing American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls (Murdered & Missing Indigenous Women). However, the missing person database in the U.S. Department of Justice only reported 115 cases of missing Indigenous women.
Josef Kubota Wladyka’s Catch the Fair One highlights this devastating epidemic. At the center of the movie is Kaylee (played by professional boxer Kali “K.O” Mequinonoag Reis), a former mixed Indigenous boxer struggling to get back on her feet after the disappearance of her sister. Weeta (Mainaku Borrero) went missing after leaving her older sister’s boxing practice early, and now Kaylee lives with the guilt of losing her sister under her watch. Following the disappearance, she starts using drugs. Kaylee lives in a women’s shelter and barely has a relationship with her mother Jaya (Kimberly Guerrero). When Kaylee meets with a private investigator, he presents her with evidence that her sister might have been kidnapped by sex traffickers. Kaylee puts herself in a dangerous situation to find her sister no matter what the cost and bring her family back together again.
Catch the Fair One explores the themes of pain, rage, and frustration of dealing with the lack of help for the murdered and missing Indigenous women. The movie looks at the internal and external repercussions that this community trauma can have on an individual and their families, as shown through Kaylee and her relationship with Jaya. Kaylee feels underappreciated and has not been seen by her mother for many years. Jaya’s lack of compassion for her daughter could also mean that she blames Kaylee for letting her sister leave on her own. Her office is decorated with a picture of Weeta and she works as a counselor to help other parents who have lost their kids. It’s heart-shattering to see what the effects of missing Indigenous children can have on parents. The average age of Indigenous children who fall victim to sex trafficking is between 14 -16 years.
In reality, sex trafficking of young Indigenous girls is not a new phenomenon. Young girls are coerced and exploited by traffickers, some of whom pose as someone else online to become friends with their victims. In 2016, Eva, a 13-year-old Indigenous girl, received a message from a young man who claims to have recognized her from middle school. After a while, the young man asked her to take explicit photos and later started to threaten her. The treatment of Native Americans and the root of sex trafficking is linked to colonialism. In an article for The Guardian, Sarah Deer, professor of law at Kansas University and author of The Beginning and End of Rape: Confronting Sexual Violence in Native America details how sex trafficking and the colonial tactics of enslavement, exploitation, exportation and relocation are almost indistinguishable.
Catch the Fair One reaches a high level of intensity and grit in the second half of the movie as Kaylee places herself in danger. She smuggles herself into a motel that serves as a hub for sex traffickers and is kidnapped by Bobby (Daniel Henshell), who runs a sex trafficking ring with his father Willie (Kevin Dunn). It’s as if Kaylee has been preparing for this moment her entire life. She sets herself loose using a blade hidden inside her mouth. After tying up Bobby’s family, she presses Bobby for information about Weeta. Repeatedly, Bobby mentions that Weeta will never be found but Kaylee doesn’t listen to him. Despite making mistakes throughout the journey, Kaylee knows that she must find her sister.
The villains in this story are the sex traffickers and community members who hold the power of misogyny against their own people. Catch the Fair One is a powerful revenge story unlike any other. The central message of the movie dives into real and important issues of the world, especially for young Indigenous girls and women, who are being abused by the perpetrators of violence. The movie is driven by Kaylee’s emotional journey to find Weeta as she confronts the hidden ugly secrets of the world. “Nobody is looking because nobody cares,” chimes one character in the movie. There is a lot to unpack in Catch the Fair One, and it is important to understand the depth of violence against many Indigenous girls and women.