Garcelle Beauvais arguably plays her most serious role in the Oscar-eligible short film, ‘Lalo’s House’ — based on true events about child sex trafficking. The actress explains why the film doesn’t ‘shy away’ from the disturbing reality of child prostitution.
Garcelle Beauvais, 52, stepped out of her comfort zone for her award-winning film Lalo’s House, which is also an Oscar-eligible short film (the Oscars are on February 24). Set in Garcelle’s home country of Haiti, Lalo’s House is inspired by true events. After being taken from their home in Jacmel, Haiti, Manouchka, 14, and her little sister Phara must escape a child sex trafficking ring, disguised as a Catholic orphanage. The actress and philanthropist, who plays Sister Francine, also served as an executive producer on the film.
When Garcelle and her Emmy-award winning partner Lisa L. Wilson read the story, they were instantly inspired by the vision of Director Kelley Kali and wanted to create art that would impact the world and influence positive social change. “Once I read the script, and I met Kelley [Kali] I thought, ‘I have to be apart of it’ — not only as an actor, but also as executive producing it. It was really the first time that I sort of had control over what the narrative was and what we were doing. It was amazing,” Garcelle told HollywoodLife EXCLUSIVELY! Although Sister Francine is a character Garcelle had never tapped into, she recalled Kali once telling her that she [Kali] “stalked” her for about a year to play the role. I was like, ‘Why me?’ and she said, ‘Because, people wouldn’t expect it.’ I thought, ‘Well ok that makes sense,'” Garcelle recalled.
The film came about after the director, Kali witnessed some alarming incidents while visiting Haiti after a tragic earthquake. “I think now people are starting to see that it’s not a hidden thing,” she said of sex trafficking. “It’s not just happening on a small island, it’s happening globally — in the nicest neighborhoods you can think of, it’s happening there. It’s insane It’s everywhere.”
“The woman that I portray [Sister Francine] is actually in jail right now in Haiti, the nun,” Garcelle continued, adding that Lalo’s House was a film she had to do, despite the sensitivity of its topic and the potential dangers of filming in Haiti.
Sex trafficking isn’t exactly a dinner time topic, let alone a topic at all, but it’s something Garcelle strongly believes needs to be discussed. “It’s so important. There are so many different facets of sex trafficking. There are kids that are being targeted in schools. They call them ‘romeo pimps’ — when a guy comes to a high school and sort of lures young girls to do this. If you see a girl and all of a sudden she has a Prada bag and a nice watch, you’ve got to ask questions because that’s part of how they’re luring girls into this lifestyle,” she explained.
When it comes to sex trafficking, young girls are targeted and are usually promised a whole new life and a good education. In reality, that is how they are lured into a dangerous ring of crime. Garcelle admitted that viewers will see heavy scenes that sometimes, were even hard for her to participate in. “She is brutal!”, she said of her character, Sister Francine. “She is mean and heartless, so that was really tough. There were days I just had to shake it off.” But, there were days when Garcelle just couldn’t separate her feelings from the reality of what these young girls experience on a daily basis.
“There was a day where I was sort of auctioning off a girl who was 6-years-old and while we were even rehearsing it I had to leave because I just started bawling. I was thinking, ‘I’m just pretending to do this, but there are people that actually do this. So, it was pretty tough,” she recalled.
“The girls, they’re sisters [in real life], which is why we thought that they would already have that bond and be protective of each other. But, the little girl, who was 6, to this day, she doesn’t even know what the story is about. We didn’t give her a script, the director would just tell her what to do. When we were doing the scene where I was auctioning her, we told her she was modeling. And, she’ll come to the festivals [where the film is nominated or recognized] and she will leave right after before we start screening. We wanted to protect her. Her old sister, who was 16, she obviously knew the story and now, she is so protective of her sister. She was actually crying and said that now that she’s done this role, she’s opened her eyes and she’s checking on her friends and her sister. It really changed the way she looks at things.”
While there were difficult moments on set, Garcelle said the cast and crew didn’t want to “shy away” from the truth and the shock value of sex trafficking happening around the world. “We have a scene in the film that is very shocking. But, we didn’t want to not shock people because that way, it’ll stay in your head and maybe you’ll do something, maybe you’ll talk to somebody else about it and the word will spread.”
“There were days that were tough, but I think it was all for the good. I keep saying this is the ‘little movie that could,’ because it’s winning awards and it’s just become this thing.” Lalo’s House was recently honored with a 2018 Student Academy Award and “because of the movie, a law was changed in New York City for sex trafficking,” Garcelle said. “I didn’t want people to feel like I was sort of highlighting that this only happens in Haiti, because that’s not the case. It happens everywhere… It’s not just a small community in a third world country — it’s everywhere.”
After seeing the film, Garcelle wants people to be aware. “We always tell people that it’s a conversation that needs to be had. When you see something, say something. When you see girls going into a building and you don’t know why and it’s next door to your apartment, check it out. I mean, you don’t have to check it out yourself — you can tip the police by saying ‘I’m looking at strange activity,'” she said. “There’s all kinds of organizations that shed light on what you can do.”
Lalo’s House is one of the first times Garcelle has worked as an executive producer on a film, with a female director. “This is the time for women!”, she gushed with pride. “When we thought about almost a year and a half ago, ‘Let’s put together a production company and work,’ then all of a sudden the timing was right. I think women are being validated — our strength, our power and our vision. Now, is the time and it’s really exciting!” Garcelle supports the Step Up Women’s Network, a national non-profit that empowers women and girls to be strong and reach their full potential.