If you’re a parent with a domestic helper in your employ, you need to see The Helper, a locally produced movie following the real-life stories of Hong Kong’s helper community. After a premier earlier this year, the documentary finally opened to the public last night.
The feature-length documentary is the brainchild of British film director Joanna Bowers, herself an expat mother living in Hong Kong. It will make you laugh and it will make you cry, but ultimately The Helper will give you an insight into the lives of this largely ignored immigrant group of workers.
At a preview screening for a selection of Hong Kong’s media at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club earlier this week, Bowers said the idea for the movie came about after wandering through Central on a Sunday when she first moved here from LA. She was intrigued to find out more about the 300,000+ domestic helper population that makes such a significant contribution to life here, yet doesn’t seem to be fully integrated into society.
Following a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, Bowers raised enough money to begin the project which culminated in a 110 minute-long documentary that is now on general release.
“I’m excited that we are finally able to put Hong Kong’s migrant domestic workers in the spotlight,” she said. “These women are such an overlooked sector of society, yet are an integral part of so many Hong Kong families. Their stories are incredibly powerful – heartbreaking and inspiring.”
Grittier stories include that of Nurul Hidayah, a young Indonesian helper who is accused of theft by her employer. She is later found not-guilty, but the event triggers a tragic downward spiral of events from which she can find no escape. When helpers are fired from their employment, within two weeks they lose all official status in Hong Kong. Hidayah soon finds herself alone, pregnant and living on a beach on the Gold Coast. Eventually discovered by an employee of local charity PathFinders, Hidayah is offered a place to stay and recourse to healthcare and legal aid, but after giving birth in a public hospital finds herself back in court fighting a $100,000 hospital bill for using hospital facilities as a non-official resident.
Meanwhile, part-time hiker Liza Avelino proves that there are real people with real dreams behind the mops and the brooms, as the film follows her in her ambitious quest to scale mountains in both Japan and Nepal. She has since gone on to summit Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and will be a guest speaker at the TEDx Tin Hau Women series of talks next month (Nov 3, The Cube, PMQ, Aberdeen Street, http://www.ted.com).
And interwoven throughout these tales is the story of the Unsung Heroes, a choir from the domestic worker community, and their challenging journey to perform on the main stage of Clockenflap.
These are by no means the ‘worst’ stories in Hong Kong – charities such as PathFinders have cases on their books that would make your hair curl. But the film adequately demonstrates that these ladies who run our errands and clean our houses, scrub our floors and polish our windows, do our shopping, make our beds, and often put our children to bed at night, are real people too. And their voices need to be heard. Ironically, if it wasn’t for them, many of the invited guests at this week’s screening wouldn’t have been able to be there to watch it in the first place.
The Helper, AMC Cinema Pacific Place, screenings until Nov 3, check amccinemas.com.hk for timings. 51% of proceeds will benefit non-profit organisations PathFinders, Enrich and Mission for Migrant Workers.