So is it really all that hard out there for a pimp? Late in the powerful documentary Very Young Girls, Rachel Lloyd, a former prostitute and founder of a NYC non-profit that helps young streetwalkers regain control of their lives, receives an award for her efforts shortly after Three 6 Mafia collected an Academy Award for Best Song for Hustle & Flow. It's a sobering moment: The Three 6 Mafia song (and the movie it represents) seems harmless enough, but that harmlessness points to a softened public perception of pimps that doesn't jibe with the real deal. And that's one of the many obstacles Lloyd has to face as she tries to wrest these damaged girls not just from their pimps, but also from a justice system and a culture that's rigged against them.
Why is Lloyd's scrappy little organization the only voice speaking for these girls? This documentary doesn't get around to that question, and though its narrow focus is disappointing, its moving testimonials from underage prostitutes are enough to rattle the conscience. The film opens with the startling fact that the average age of girls entering the commercial sex industry in New York is 13, then proceeds to show the cruel logic of it. Most of the subjects in Very Young Girls come from broken homes, and pimps are expert at preying on their vulnerability, whether that means playing their lover or father, getting them addicted to drugs, or simply beating them into submission.
Along with straightforward interviews with former prostitutes on the mend, Schisgall weaves in startling home-video footage from two pimps who imagined their exploits might be used as fodder for a reality television show. While their fantasies of TV stardom are hilariously misguided, they're scarily assured in the art of manipulating the bruised psyches of the 100 or so girls under their employ. Seeing Lloyd and her tiny organization GEMS (Girls Educational & Mentoring Services) attempt to compete for hearts and minds is a tragic David and Goliath match-up. And with so few resources at their disposal, they can only claim small victories in a much larger war.