Interview by Moya Tobey | Photo Courtesy of Nicole Bowers Wallace
Ring of Silence is a newly released film about a young girl who falls in love with a sweet and charming stranger and soon finds out that her fairy tale doesn’t lead to wonderland, but to the world of human trafficking. Michigan-native Nicole Bowers Wallace shares her experience writing and directing the film.
Women’s LifeStyle Magazine: What inspired you to create this film, Ring of Silence?
Nicole Bowers Wallace: I had just finished doing a short film on sexual abuse with an actress out of L.A., and I was making a presentation to a group of women. A number of the women sitting there were part of a human trafficking task force in Genesee County. One lady came up to me after the presentation and asked me, “What would you think about doing something on human sex trafficking?” And was thinking “Wow, that’s heavy.” I only knew what I thought I knew about it, and in my mind, I thought it was something like abduction and was happening more in other countries. I didn’t really know much about it in America.
I was a little hesitant because it’s a really deep topic, and I had just come out of a deep topic with sexual abuse. For writers and directors, you really have to put your head in that space while your writing, and you have to be fully committed. But, what I did say was,
“Let me do some research and find out how it is really happening.” So, after researching and reading I couldn’t believe it wasn’t happening the way I thought it was. I thought, “If I don’t understand how this is happening, then most people don’t understand either. And if my teen doesn’t understand how this is happening, then most teens don’t.” I knew I had to do the movie, and that’s when it became, “Oh my goodness, I have to get this movie out.” That’s what inspired me — just doing that research and hearing the stories. I wanted to make this as true to the stories that were being given to me.
I went with the angle of the online threat and how that has opened up so many doors for these predators to find teens and create relationships. It was surprising to me to find it wasn’t an abduction thing; it was predators creating these relationships with a victim that would go on for months, sort of breaking down walls, getting more control and then getting them into this seedy business. After talking to victims who have gone through that same psychological process, that is the avenue I chose to take because I realized how prevalent it was. That’s what the story is about — a 17-year-old girl who is approached by a 22- year-old online, and he creates this relationship with her. She begins to trust him, and he becomes her world. Then he slowly, but surely, convinces her to help him out, and she gets into this seedy situation. The first thing I heard after the premiere we showed in Flint, Michigan was, “I never knew, I never knew.” I’ve heard that a thousand times now.
WLM: Several of your films are related to social justice issues. Why did you choose to explore these topics?
NBW: A lot of the films that I write tend to have a social justice theme, and my family always asks “Are you ever going to write a fun comedy?” because everything seems to be centered around these issues. I think film is the platform to get these messages out.
I believe we need to use our gifts to do better things in the world, and mine happens to be film. That’s my art. That’s my way of sharing and helping with whatever issues I can. It’s an eternal passion.
“There were some scenes that we needed to take breaks after; we needed to take a mental break because it was just so heavy. When you think about the fact that we’re making a film, but this is happening to thousands and thousands and thousands of kids across the country — 250,000 — it’s overwhelming.”
WLM: Where did you get material and content for Ring of Silence?
NBW: To tell the story properly, you need to be 100 percent in on what’s actually happening. I did the research and spoke with victims and the FBI and the police and advocacy groups. I did a lot of research online, and I couldn’t believe what I was finding. I couldn’t believe how prevalent it was. I couldn’t believe it wasn’t happening the way I thought it was; a lot of it was happening online. It was happening in all of our areas and everywhere around us. I purposely didn’t want to do the about a certain victim; I wanted to keep them all confidential. What I did was take pieces of what everyone told me and put it in one story.
WLM: What was the most rewarding part of creating Ring of Silence?
NBW: The most rewarding part, I think, is seeing the impact of the story when people see the movie. Hearing people say, “Everyone needs to see this, every teen needs to see this,” is also a really rewarding part. Viewers are so interested in helping get this message out. I think that is the most rewarding part. For us, going through that as a team and being a film family, is always rewarding.
WLM: What was the hardest part of creating Ring of Silence?
NBW: The hardest part was the stories. It was difficult for the lead actors — it was just a very, very heavy script. There were some scenes that we needed to take breaks after; we needed to take a mental break because it was just so heavy. When you think about the fact that we’re making a film, but this is happening to thousands and thousands and thousands of kids across the country — 250,000 — it’s overwhelming. The more you heard about stories from police officers, and the more you heard about it made it an even more mentally taxing film. It’s probably the hardest thing most of us have ever done.
WLM: How did you get your start in film?
NBW: I always wanted to go into film, even when I was young. I had a single mom, and she would say, “You have to do something practical. You have to be able to pay your bills, and you can’t rely on anybody else,” so I didn’t pursue it until later in life. I went to nursing school, and then I went into business. I became CEO of a business group, and then I left that to start a second career in my 40s. I decided to go back to film because that is what I always wanted to do. So, this is a second career for me, and it’s something I always wanted. I started by getting on film sets and working with different groups and learning the lay of the land by being involved. I was in a lot of commercials, and I was a host for a show called “Physician Spotlight.” I did a number of different things in the production industry, but all I wanted was to write and direct. I started doing short films, and now I’m doing feature films.
“There are many stories that come out of Grand Rapids. People don’t understand how this is happening, and that’s why I think it just keeps growing and building into this huge epidemic.”
WLM: What do you hope the audience will get out of this film?
NBW: I think it’s important that the whole community understands. The film is treated as PG-13, and it’s targeted at teens to understand that meeting dangerous people on the Internet is easy. We live in a time now where our youth are seeing older people meet online, so meeting online is not a strange thing for this generation. Now, the first thing is to educate these teens that this is happening, and it’s not just happening to people far away; it’s happening everywhere. People need to understand that it’s happening in kids’ high schools and how these predators are finding these teens. They’re out there online, and teens they tell their whole life story online. You can identify someone who just broke up with a boyfriend, isn’t getting along with their parents, or hates life. You can identify the weaknesses of teens through what they’re saying and find their way into a relationship in a trusting factor. Traffickers understand the weak points of a lot of teens, and they all go through these things; we all did.
WLM: What are your hopes for your future as a filmmaker?
NBW: For Ring of Silence, it’s to get the word out nationally. I think it’s important for parents to be aware. A lot of parents and teens are disengaged from what’s happening with these internet opportunities and apps and things that are out there. And going forward, I’m beginning to work on another feature—which I can’t give you too much information about—that also has to do with a social justice issue.
WLM: Is there anything you want people to know about the film or human trafficking?
NBW: I think it’s important that we know a lot of trafficking has happened in Michigan. There are many stories that come out of Grand Rapids. People don’t understand how this is happening, and that’s why I think it just keeps growing and building into this huge epidemic. It’s important for parents to understand specifically with Grand Rapids that many stories are coming out of the region.
Ring of Silence is playing at 7 pm on March 1 and 2, and at 2 pm on March 3 at Celebration Cinema Woodland.