Immediations: The Humanitarian Impulse in Documentary
Feral Innocence: The Humanitarian Aesthetic of Dematerialized Child Labor
This chapter examines how media advocacy initiatives aiming to eliminate coerced child labor dematerialize the role of children’s creative work in the production of humanitarian commodities. The chapter centers around the film Born into Brothels (2004), which documents the training of brothel children in India as photographers as a financial alternative to coerced sex work. The author argues that the humanitarian aesthetic of “feral innocence” ameliorates the threat posed by non-Western childhoods to the humanitarian fantasy of childhood as a state prior to culture, mediation, and labor. The chapter elaborates on this fantasy through a reading of François Truffaut’s film The Wild Child (L’Enfant Sauvage, 1970). It locates a corrective to this tendency in Sol Worth and John Adair’s Navajo Film Themselves Project from 1966, an experiment in shared ethnographic filmmaking. The author argues that Worth and Adair’s dialectical investments in the figure of the child defamiliarize conventional engagements with documentary.