Screenshot of the movie, ‘Priceless’

According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, an organization dedicated to ending human trafficking and providing resources for victims, 3,646 human trafficking cases have been reported so far this year in the U.S.—307 of these cases were in Texas alone.

You didn’t know that human trafficking occurred in our country? Neither did I. Human trafficking, often called modern-day slavery, occurs in every country and is one of the most prevalent crimes in the world, but it is one that is rarely covered in the media.

Based on the book by the same title (written by brothers Joel and Luke Smallbone, lead singers of the Grammy award-winning band for KING & COUNTRY), “Priceless” masterfully and passionately covers this largely ignored topic and one of its root causes: the decline of women’s self-worth. The movie combines excellent acting and emotionally powerful scenes to raise awareness of human trafficking and encourage women to understand their worth.

The “Priceless” screenplay, written by Chris Dowling and Tyler Poelle and directed by Ben Smallbone, follows the story of James Stevens (Joel Smallbone), a widower who lost control of his life after his wife’s death. When he loses custody of his daughter, Stevens agrees to drive a truck with unknown cargo across the country to earn some quick cash. When he discovers the cargo is actually two sisters, Antonia (Bianca A. Santos) and Maria (Amber Midthunder), bound for a forced-prostitution ring, he has to make a choice: ignore it and go back home to his daughter or risk his life to save them. Along this journey, Stevens learns about faith, heroism and the price of a woman.

Though better known for singing than acting, Joel Smallbone steals every scene he is in. Using his animated facial expressions and body language, he portrays the downcast and lost Stevens at first with apathy, then with strong and unguarded emotion; especially in scenes between Stevens and his daughter. In a scene where Stevens is deciding whether to help Antonia and Maria, he dreams that the leader of the prostitution ring (Jim Parrack) abducts his daughter the same way he took the sisters, bringing human trafficking a little closer to home. This scene is one of the most powerful and emotional scenes in the movie, with Smallbone banging on the motel window, crying, screaming and slapping his hands to his head in a vain attempt to save his daughter. Smallbone’s ability to go from apathy to empathy and use his body language and facial expressions to display these emotions make him one of the best parts of this movie.

Santos, too, makes a strong showing, playing the optimistic and protective Antonia with a faith in God that guides her through this horrible ordeal and inspires Stevens to be a better man. Santos portrays Antonia in beautiful opposites: most of the time, she is gentle and soft spoken with a solid foundation of faith and courage, but, when she is protecting her 16-year-old sister, Santos transforms Antonia into a fierce and strong force of nature, willing to do anything to protect her sister. This transformation is best shown in the scene where the prostitution ring leader tries to convince Antonia to accept her situation. She refuses him calmly but firmly, adamant and unyielding in her decision — until he brings in her sister. Then Antonia’s calm demeanor cracks, and she gives herself up to save her sister. Santos portrays this transformation flawlessly, expressing Antonia’s strength, courage and faith with expertise.

Despite the amazing actors, the emotionally powerful and faith-based scenes in “Priceless” are what really show the horror and insidiousness of human trafficking. For instance, in one scene, Antonia is talking to one of the women in the forced-prostitution ring, and the woman describes how she got there: she met a guy on Facebook who told her he loved her. She got on a plane to meet him in Vegas where he proceeded to sell her to the prostitution business. The worst part is when she tells Antonia that these people who have forced her to be a sex slave actually treat her better than her father ever did.

The excellent acting, powerful scenes and faith-based script come together to drive the point home: as James Stevens says in the movie, “you’ve been taught to talk and dress and act like you’re cheap, but…we believe that there is a God who knows exactly what you’re worth”. All people, no matter what size, race, shape or gender, are priceless.

“Priceless” is showing only in select theatres. For information on theatres and showtimes, go to pricelessthemovie.com.

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