Trinity University graduate Janet Craig explores human trafficking epidemic in new film Wake Up

In Wake Up, Craig tells the story of a pair of foster children who are kidnapped from a small community by a sex trafficking ring.

click to enlarge Wake Up is Janet Craig's feature directorial debut. - Courtesy Photo / Wake Up
Courtesy Photo / Wake Up
Wake Up is Janet Craig's feature directorial debut.

Filmmaker Janet Craig spent a few years in San Antonio during the early 1980s. She attended Trinity University, where she majored in theater and was a member of the school's nationally ranked women's tennis team. She also met her husband there.

"San Antonio has a very big place in my heart," Craig told the Current during a recent interview. "[Trinity] was an incredible experience. I still have friends from there."

In Wake Up, her feature directorial debut, Craig tells the story of a pair of foster children who are kidnapped from a small community by a sex trafficking ring. Along with directing the film, Craig co-wrote it with Dan Horan and based the narrative on accounts she became aware of after becoming a foster parent herself and learning about some of the abuse that takes place in the system.

Wake Up will make its premiere in Hollywood on Tuesday, Sept. 6.

What was the inspiration behind making a film about human trafficking?

When my oldest daughter was 16, she asked me to go to a fundraiser for an anti-trafficking organization. I heard this beautiful, articulate young woman tell her story there. At that moment, I wanted to bring the whole world into that room to hear her story. As a filmmaker, I thought that if I could make a project that could get [her story] out to the world, it would be like bringing people into that room.

Why did you decide to make it a thriller, not a documentary?

I thought about a documentary because I have so many personal experiences with people who have been trafficked. I've been mentoring some of them through these [anti-trafficking] organizations and also as a foster mom. My producing partners have also had over 125 foster kids in their homes, many of whom had been trafficked. We felt the need to get something out there but wanted people to watch it. So, we wanted a narrative feature that would keep people on the edge of their seat — like Taken meets Crash. I just wanted to capture people's imaginations.

What questions did you want to confront to make a movie like this?

What I realized when I first started writing is that [human trafficking] is a multibillion-dollar industry. So, I thought, "Well, who's buying?" We don't have trafficking if no one's buying. That was my question in writing the screenplay. I recognized that it's happening in every neighborhood. Nobody is immune.

I assume some of these children are being lured online by traffickers.

Yes, sometimes little boys will be playing online games, and they don't know they're being groomed. A kid will be on a game and [a trafficker] will say, "Show me your muscles." He doesn't know who he's talking to on the other side of that screen. We're finding that many times this happens to boys and girls between the ages of 12 and 14. It happens, too, because kids are exploiting themselves on social media. Most of the time, however, [the trafficker] will be somebody that they know.

What advice do you give parents to help them combat these dangers?

I think the biggest thing is to keep communication open. What I want to impress upon parents is that kids are going to make mistakes, but they need to know that they can come to you with anything. So, if they do something that they're not proud of and they're afraid to tell their parents, a caring adult needs to say, "Look, you can come to me with anything."

Are there any red flags parents should look out for that might indicate something isn't right?

Parents should be observant. Take notice if your kid starts to not engage, isolates themselves, isn't communicating with you or all of a sudden seems depressed. Also, monitor what technology they're using and platforms they're on. These days, it's just so easy to get to someone.

Are the stories in Wake Up inspired by real people?

They're inspired by people that I know, but I changed all the circumstances to protect them. The main character is inspired by a foster kid that my producing partners had in their home. I also wanted to show where these buyers are coming from. My co-writer used to be in law enforcement and used to investigate trafficking, so he came to this with a lot of that background.

What do you hope people learn from seeing your film?

What we need to realize is that most of these kids who are being trafficked will need a loving, caring adult to walk with them for a long time. It's like vets that come back with trauma they have to deal with. We need to support our frontline advocates.

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