EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with the Swedish writer-director Niclas Gillis on his recent film "Hold Me Down." The Film depicts a day in the life of a 19-year-old single mother who works as a stripper at an illegal nightclub to support her child in the South Bronx. It is filmed in the locations where the events depicted actually occurred; in the Mott Haven Housing Projects and in an actual brothel, and features a cast of non-actors / women survivors of sexual exploitation and domestic violence.
Full Movie below: Rated M - This video contains mature or explicit, or sexually suggestive content. It may not be appropriate for all viewers.
‘Hold Me Down’ is a very powerful short story and a very sensitive subject to address. What caused you to tackle this subject?
Niclas: When I moved to America back in 2009, I was invited to what I thought would be a regular house party in Harlem, but that proved to be an illicit event similar to the one depicted in the film. I witnessed a young woman have sex with a stranger on the floor of a crowded room for single dollar bills, and was shocked. We were the same age, and yet our realities seemed so far apart. When I asked her if she was okay, she told me that she had a two-year-old daughter and that this was what she had to do to survive. I couldn’t understand what sort of country would allow for a young mother to have to go through this to support her child, and I feared for what would become of her daughter. Most troubling of all was the realization that her predicament seemed to be so common. It prompted me to more seriously study American history and its bearings on the present day reality. The more I learned, the more troublesome the situation appeared. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, there is almost no other country in the developed world in which the disparity between rich and poor is greater than it is here. And in spite of the so-called “American Dream”, a person born into poverty in America is less likely to make it out of poverty by adulthood than in almost any other developed nation. So five years later, I set out to make a film that I hoped would give the women who live that life the opportunity to tell their own story, to raise awareness of the conditions that they face, and inspire change.
Can you tell us more about the title selection: ’Hold me Down’ What made you pick this title?
Niclas: 'Hold Me Down' is urban slang, meaning “be there for me". It was something that I would hear in the streets, and it resonated. Watch Tianna talk about the title: https://vimeo.com/115284941
How did you manage to get a cast of actresses that never acted before to perform so great and so real?
Niclas: We handed out 10,000 flyers in the streets of the Bronx, advertising the castings, and interviewed hundreds of women survivors. The cast was assembled over the course of nine months, and during that time, we became extremely close. We all became part of each other's lives in a very real way and I think you need that kind of trust. They need to know that you are there for them, that you will catch them when they fall, and guide them through this process. So much of the work was about giving them the courage to be vulnerable.
The film left me wanting to know more, seeking closure somehow. Was this intentional? Are you planning a follow-up?
Niclas: These issues have been going on forever, and I think part of the reason for that is this huge misconception that so many Americans have, which is that only in America can you make it from one end of the wealth spectrum to the other. In reality, most people who are born poor die poor. Most mothers in that environment who were themselves victims of rape will see their daughters be raped. It is a never-ending cycle of poverty and violence that needs to end and it never will until we as a society all take responsibility for each other. There are currently 24,000 homeless children in New York alone. How is this acceptable? So I felt that a "happy ending" or a significant change in her life, as depicted over the course of one day, would have been wrong. I want the viewer to know that when they leave the theater, and get home, and go to bed, she is still out there and so are millions of women like her.
The film definitely brings more visibility to the hidden and often ignored reality in poverty areas in the United States. Can this also be applied to other less fortunate areas in the world such as struggling African countries?
Niclas: I try not to generalize but I do believe that to a certain extent, poverty is poverty, whether here or elsewhere. Fundamentally, however, the film is about our shared humanity. I want people to realize that regardless of where we come from, we all suffer. We all bleed the same color and we all deserve the same basic human rights.
What other projects are you currently planning for the near future? Anything involving Africa and Africans?
Niclas: The Nigerian actor Ozzy Agu is a dear friend of mine and we've actually been toying with the idea of doing a Nollywood film together, but I don't know. Right now I'm in early pre-production on a full-length film in the same world as 'Hold Me Down', called 'Trouble Child'. Based on a true story, Trouble Child will chronicle one woman's journey from her abusive childhood in South Philadelphia, through her time at a juvenile correctional facility in Virginia, her dramatic escape, and descent into prostitution in the Bronx. It will be an examination of the harsh conditions faced by women in poverty in the United States, the rampant violence, and the perils of the criminal justice system.
What can you tell us more about the women depicted in Hold Me Down?
Niclas: We're still close, we're still working together, and thanks in large part to Project Rousseau, most of them have now been able to gain stability in their lives and are now pursuing higher education. This is what we want to see on a bigger scale.
Thank you, Niclas for the opportunity. Looking forward on your next release.
Writer, Director, Editor: Niclas Gillis
Producers: Niclas Gillis, Stephen Buchanan, Anette Brantin
Associate Producer: Prince Combs
Starring: Tianna Allen, Prince Combs, Tanisha Lambright, Cheryl Juniaus, Anaya Ba, Nichole Adams, Miranda Collier, Syrah & Serenity Harris.
DoP: Steve Annis
Original Score: Jonas Söderman Bohlin
Sound Design: Aleksander Karshikoff
To get help or make a difference, visit projectrousseau.org