Joy is a young Nigerian woman caught in the vicious cycle of sex trafficking. She works the streets to pay off debts to her exploiter Madame, while supporting her family in Nigeria and hoping for a better life for her little daughter in Vienna. Joy struggles to understand her role in this merciless system of exploitation when she is instructed by Madame to supervise Precious, a teenage girl fresh from Nigeria who is not ready to accept her fate.

Director's Statement

Tens of thousands of Nigerian women walk the streets and work in brothels all over Europe. They are victims of an elaborate trafficking system, a kind of modern day slavery forcing them to pay off horrendous debts. When I first read about Nigerian sex trafficking, what surprised and shocked me most was that there are no male pimps involved. The trafficking business is run almost entirely by women. It‘s women exploiting other women. The “Madames” are former prostitutes, once victims of trafficking themselves, who after paying off their debts, save money to buy new girls and bring them to Europe for sex work. A vicious cycle that blurs the lines between exploiters and victims.
What drives a woman who has experienced this kind of abuse to become a perpetrator herself? At what cost does freedom and personal well-being come? What is the role of the families and society in all of this? And is there a way out? Driven by these questions I started to explore this merciless system and the exploration ultimately lead me to Benin City, Nigeria, where the majority of the women comes from. I started to understand the life stories and circumstances of these women and to develop more and more empathy with them. Also it became increasingly difficult for me to make judgements about good and evil in this game. And this is what I would like the audience to feel and experience, too. See the world through the eyes of a woman who sees no other option that to participate in this perfidious system, experience her story with her, from her perspective.

I wanted to make a film that gives an intimate and authentic glimpse into the lives of trafficked women and to show them as subjects of their own stories. JOY reveals what we rarely see: the private moments, the
everyday struggles, the complex power dynamics, the strength and dignity of these foreign women walking Europe‘s streets and red-light districts. The film‘s point of view is completely through the eyes of Joy. It‘s her journey and her relationship with her Madame and newcomer Precious that drive the story. There is no “white saviour.” The johns, the nice guys as well as the brutes, remain minor characters.

I wrote JOY‘s screenplay incorporating many real life stories I encountered in my research. I always shoot in chronological order and let the actors improvise as much as possible within the framework of the script, leaving them a lot of space to develop their characters and relationships, to have their own way of talking and interacting with each other. So, in a way my actors are my co-authors and it is in no small part thanks to them that JOY has the intimacy and immediacy that I find necessary to tell this story.

Director's Biography

Born 1968 in Ludwigsburg, Germany, to Iranian parents, Sudabeh Mortezai grew up in Tehran and Vienna. She received her MA in Theatre and Film Studies from the University of Vienna in 1994. She worked as a programmer for film festivals and organised a number of film events as the manager and curator of Filmcasino, an independent arthouse theatre in Vienna. After completing UCLA’s certificate program in Film, TV, and Digital Entertainment Media in 2003, she worked as an assistant director and production manager and directed and produced several short films before making her feature length documentary CHILDREN OF THE PROPHET.

She made her feature debut in 2014 with MACONDO which premiered in competition at the Berlinale 2014 and garnered numerous international awards.

2018 - JOY
2014 – MACONDO

Cast & Crew

Directed by: Sudabeh Mortezai

Written by: Sudabeh Mortezai

Produced by: Oliver Neumann, Sabine Moser

Cinematography: Klemens Hufnagl

Editing: Oliver Neumann

Production Design: Julia Libiseller

Costume Design: Carola Pizzini

Sound: Atanas Tcholakov

Cast: Joy Anwulika Alphonsus (Joy), Precious Mariam Sanusi (Precious)

Nominations and Awards

  • Feature Film Selection 2019