Television, the great anesthetizer, has its challenging moments. Tonight, PBS' remarkable independent film series "POV" not only offers a window on a disturbing issue, but also demands a response.
For many, that response will be outrage.
In "Girltalk," at 10 p.m. on Channels 28, film maker Kate Davis has put three young women in front of the camera. All are or have been child runaways, part of the million or more who leave home each year.
No experts guide us, no parent offers explanation. Davis, with cinematographer Alyson Denny, gave the three a central role in decision-making, allowing them to tell their lives in their own way. The result is raw, ugly and moving.
Pinky, 14, ran away with a friend who got them a place to stay by prostituting herself. "I didn't have to do nothing," Pinky says. Her clothes are feminine, her sulky face promises beauty; her vision is limited to perhaps having a pink wedding someday.
Underneath her anger is the conviction that she is unloved. She is on the downward spiral, truant and in and out of foster care, but hasn't hit bottom.
Martha, 19, is single and pregnant. She is the most articulate, the one who has come far enough to want to take control of her life. She left home after years of sexual abuse by her adoptive father. When she was 12, she told and he went to prison. Her own pain and anger unresolved, she ended up in foster homes, on drugs and on the streets.
Martha pours out her rage in poetry. When her son, Keith, is born, he embodies her hope and fear.
Mars' story will present viewers with their biggest challenge. She ran away at 13, having been sexually molested by her stepbrother and gang-raped by his friends. Now she is a stripper. Dressed like a little girl, with a tricycle and lollipop as props, she re-enacts the pattern of her own sexual abuse. The choreography is hers.
She calls the bartender daddy , because he watches out for her, something her mother never did, she says.
Davis' point is that sexual exploitation is a major factor in troubled lives. She knows her own graphic footage of Mars on stage and off will be suspect. But she asserts that viewers' outrage should be directed at the reality, not the film.
Martha has the last word: "The questions people ask at the end of the film are questions people should be asking every day."