Buffalo Girls, a film by Todd Kellstein, takes an inside look at Thailand’s underground world of child boxers, telling the heartbreaking story of 8-year-old-girls, Stam and Pet, both professional Muay Thai prizefighters. Set in villages throughout rural Thailand, the film chronicles these young girls’ journey as they fight in small underground arenas to win prize-money to help provide and improve the standard of living for their families.
In an impoverished country like Thailand, boxing is one of few alternatives to the country’s commercial sex trade as a means of escaping extreme poverty. The numbers are staggering… there are some 30,000 children under the age of 15 boxing in rural Thailand.
Kellstein follows and exposes the intense preparation and horrific battles these girls experience. After months of training and matches, Stam and Pet meet one another in the ring to fight for the championship belt, and a cash prize that can change one of their lives forever. According to Kellstein, child boxers in Thailand can earn as much as half of a family’s monthly rent from a single match.
There’s a lot of controversy among human rights activists and those who are trying to preserve Thailand’s rich culture, as to whether or not child boxers in Thailand are being exploited, or whether it is culturally acceptable for them to be fighting. Muay Thai is a martial art with a 700 year old history, and for the villages involved, gambling has become a part of the community’s framework and local economy making it nearly impossible to eradicate.
But, just because something is culturally accepted, does it mean that it’s a good idea and should not be challenged? According to critics, Kellstein doesn’t address or answer these questions in Buffalo Girls, but initiates an important global conversation.
With this year bringing the United Nations resolution for the first ever International Day of the Girl, and the Girl Scouts declaring it Year of the Girl, it is clear that a significant amount of work needs to be done to ensure the safety and well-being of girls like Stam and Pet around the world.
Buffalo Girls is opening today in Los Angeles at Laemmle Theatres and will be available for streaming on Netflix and HULU in February 2013.