Statistics show that around 49 million Americans live in poverty, which includes over 16 million children. Without much support from their own government, people get pushed to the margin and are forced to take on jobs that are not necessarily legal. Single mothers, predominantly African-Americans, are among the victims of this penury; some turn to prostitution and drugs to cope with the hardships of everyday life – and they mostly suffer in silence.
Cinema has become a useful tool to voice such issues and the effects they have on people. Hold Me Down, an American-Swedish co-production, written and directed by Niclas Gillis, is one such ‘voice’; in a very direct way, it depicts the story and struggles of a young mother from Bronx, Chastity (Tianna Allen).
Chastity is a 19-year-old single parent, who is barely managing to provide food for herself and her daughter; it gets to the point where she is forced to make her daughter wear toilet paper and a shopping bag instead of a diaper. Chastity occasionally turns to her mother (Cheryl Juniaus) for help, but her mother also struggles with the lack of money. The relationship between the two is strained and filled with nothing but frustration and anger. Chastity carries a huge burden; unable to find a proper job, she works as a stripteaser at an illegal brothel somewhere in Bronx. The lack of respect and the sexual exploitation from men that she has to endure show us just how toxic and brutal a life of a vulnerable woman can get…
Filmed in Bronx, consisting of actors who lived and still live in the area, the project premiered to a standing ovation at the Göteborg Film Festival. Hold Me Down was financed through a Kickstarter campaign and managed to raise a whooping $30,751; even though it’s a 27-minute short, it took three years to make due to the complex subject matter.
Tianna Allen is superb in the role of Chastity. It is hard not to become sympathetic to her character’s suffering and misery as poverty effects every aspect of her life: her being a mother, her relationship with her own mother (the family structure and poverty are intertwined), as well as her lack of self-esteem and confidence due to sexual exploitation. Hold Me Down is a tragic portrait of a young woman who could have a bright future ahead of her, if only she received help by those who are supposed to help – the government.
Undoubtedly, Niclas Gillis‘s new project makes for a profound and agonizing short that deserves everyone’s attention as it manifests poverty as a collective issue that effects individuals in different ways.
Written by Maggie Gogler
Edited by Sanja Struna
All photos © Hold Me Down