The story of Hosea and Gomer in the Book of Hosea is one of love and redemption. Through the covenant of love established in Hosea and Gomer’s marriage, we read a larger story about God’s love for His people. In the indie film HOSEA, the filmmakers retell this story through the lens of a female protagonist (known as Cate) who is caught in a web of abuse, self-harm, and sex trafficking. The film portrays her struggle to embrace love and self-acceptance, addressing these themes in a way that’s accessible to both people of faith and people who don’t practice a religion. HOSEA explores faith and feminism while educating viewers about sex trafficking, self-harm, and related topics.
I spoke with the filmmakers about how HOSEA came to be, and I found the story of the film’s inception and production to be as compelling as the story it tells. Here’s my interview with the film’s producers Avril Speaks and Suzanne Watson, along with writer and director Ryan Daniel Dobson. For more information on the filmmakers, cast, and crew, you can download HOSEA’s Press Kit. If you watch and enjoy the film and want to discuss it with others, check out HOSEA’s robust discussion guide.
What inspired you to retell the Hosea story through a modern lens and from the point of view of a female protagonist — and specifically a woman who’s caught in sex trafficking?
Avril Speaks: For some time, Ryan Daniel Dobson (the writer and director) had been contemplating spiritual stories and their significance within various faith traditions. During his college years, we began imagining what the people in Bible stories were actually like, and it led him to think about Gomer in the Hosea story. It’s rare that we hear the woman’s point of view in these stories, so from that lens, it made sense to put this story in a modern-day setting.
Doing so meant that we would need to also find a relevant, modern equivalent to prostitution in ancient Israel and Palestine. Sex trafficking is an issue that is often mischaracterized, which leaves women and girls unprotected in a cycle of violence against their bodies. Giving voice to Gomer in this way helped breathe life and imagination into her story while shedding light on this important topic.
Sex trafficking is an issue that is often mischaracterized, which leaves women and girls unprotected in a cycle of violence against their bodies.
What resources did you reference to inform how you depicted sex trafficking in the film? Did you speak with any people who had experienced sex trafficking firsthand?
Ryan Daniel Dobson: Living in Los Angeles, we’re in one of the epicenters of human trafficking, which in turn means that there is a large number of wonderful organizations trying to address the systemic problems that sustain trafficking. We were fortunate enough to work with several of those organizations and hear directly from survivors during the writing process.
Part of the experience of hearing those stories is realizing that no two stories are the same, but many share common elements and themes. For example, we often heard the story of a romantic relationship that was progressively commodified, where a man tied gift-giving or expressions of love to certain expectations. That relational structure then morphed into more coercive quid pro quo scenarios and, finally, into direct sexual trafficking.
We wanted to depict that process in the relationship between Donovan and Cate (which happens in the second half of the film), where the audience sees how charming and romantic a man can be, how sweet a relationship can seem, and still lead toward the darkness of forced sex labor. So, while the film HOSEA is not, by any means, a depiction of all trafficking stories, it pulls together some of those common experiences.
In researching sex trafficking, was there anything that surprised you or that you didn’t know before? What are some of the misconceptions that people often have about sex workers that are addressed in the film?
RDD: I was most surprised by the average age a person begins the process of being trafficked. Often, we’re talking about children: girls in their pre-teen or early teenage years. It’s important to recognize that, because it shapes how we think about a person who is labeled “prostitute” by a legal or moral system.
We use the word “prostitute” as though a person has full volition over whether or not they participate in sex work, or as if it’s a job that a person freely chooses. When you hear survivors’ stories, you realize that it’s often the case that an adult woman who works as a prostitute was once a trafficked child, who then grew up inside a coercive system of sexual abuse. That realization should mean that we approach the problem of human trafficking with more sympathy and a better understanding of where these evil power structures originate.
We [should] approach the problem of human trafficking with more sympathy and a better understanding of where these evil power structures originate.
How did the team of creatives who made the film come together?
Suzanne Watson: Ryan and I have been friends for over 15 years. Almost 10 years ago, I mentioned to a mutual friend that I wanted to produce a reimagining of the story of Hosea and bring it to life in a modern-day indie film. She said, “You know Ryan wants to do the same thing, right?”
Shortly after that conversation, Ryan and I met early one Saturday morning at a coffee shop in Los Angeles and discussed our hopes and dreams for a film inspired by the Hosea story that brings to life its themes of forgiveness, love, and redemption. We agreed that he would write and direct and I would produce, and then we immediately started the initial stages of the film’s script development.
Once the script was ready and investors were secured, we wanted to add another producer to the team. We reached out to our mutual friend (and now impact producer) Samantha Curley, who put us in touch with Avril. She had just wrapped production on the award-winning film JINN and was finishing her Master of Theology in film studies at Fuller Seminary. Avril was the final piece of the puzzle to our core team. From there, the three of us set out to film HOSEA, and it’s been full steam ahead ever since.
For Christians who are skeptical of feminism, how does the film seek to be a bridge?
RDD: Terminology has become so problematic in our world of ever-deepening echo-chambers. A word like “feminism” has life-giving connotations to some people, while to others, it’s a word that denotes the enemy. This is why storytelling is so exciting to me: Narrative can transcend the tribal ways in which we define each other by inviting an audience, full of people with varying worldviews, to empathize with a main character and imagine a world different from their own.
In my mind, that moment of empathetic opportunity is the bridge you mentioned. We wanted to create a film which pulled back the curtain on the cycles of violence and abuse: the frameworks of misogynistic power that work together to subordinate women like Cate. When you sit down and hear — really hear — a story like that, it becomes harder to draw “us versus them” lines. Hopefully, it becomes easier for all to agree that such systems of power should not exist, and then we can work together to dismantle them.
While Catholic Christians may have some differences in faith from non-Catholic Christians, what are some of the themes of common ground in the film that can reach Catholic and non-Catholic viewers alike?
AS: Ultimately, this is a story about redemption and light, and those are the common themes within the film. No matter who we are or what we have done in the past, there is light and hope that can embrace even the darkest parts of who we are. Whether we stray or deliberately walk away, we have a loving God who will forgive. I think that is the common ground: that there is always an open door to God’s light.
Whether we stray or deliberately walk away, we have a loving God who will forgive. I think that is the common ground: that there is always an open door to God’s light.
What are some of the messages you hope viewers take away from the film?
SW: One of the most rewarding parts of being a filmmaker is hearing the discussions among audience members after watching the film. HOSEA is particularly interesting in this regard, as there are a variety of themes, and often, five people who just watched it will have five completely different takeaways. As a result, I don’t want to dictate too much what message I hope viewers will take away, other than that we all deserve authentic love — not later on, when we’re “fixed,” but now. Every human being is worthy of this kind of love. I believe it is the way that God loves us.
The image of the Virgin de Guadalupe is depicted toward the beginning of the film, when it’s alluded to that young Cate is sexually assaulted by her dad's friend. Then, we see a statue of her again at the end of the film, and Cate runs to hold her and clean the mud and dirt off of her. For Catholic viewers, what might they take away from this symbolism?
AS: We always welcome other people’s interpretations of the symbolism within the film, but we will offer up an idea that many religious symbols have been used as cultural artifacts. People wear crosses around their neck as decoration, and “Jesus is my Homeboy” t-shirts have become popular fare, sometimes merely as a fashion statement or trend. Cate’s abuser displays a Virgin de Guadalupe bobblehead on his dashboard, and it is a reminder that these symbols themselves are not necessarily an easy indicator of who or what is “good” or “bad.”
Cate sees this symbol during a time when she is being violated as a young child, and she grows up feeling a sense of shame about her life circumstances. However, by the time she sees the Virgin de Guadalupe statue covered in mud in the street, she realizes her need for the Divine, which comes through this mother figure. In that moment, it’s something that she desperately clings to, not having had a mother to protect her throughout her life.
The dirty statue also helps Cate reclaim her own worth. As Cate attempts to scrub away the dirt from the statue, she knows that the stains on the physical structure don’t erase the light and goodness that the Virgin de Guadalupe stands for. Similarly, Cate makes an effort to not allow her scars to dim the light inside of her.
Your film also includes a viewer discussion guide. What do you hope those conversations will spark among viewers?
SW: The discussion guide is the perfect companion piece to the film for those who want to continue the conversation, whether they watch the film on their own, with a small group, in theology class, or at a large conference. We’ve seen the guide serve as a tool to navigate hard topics in a safe and healing way. We hope that the conversations and authentic connections made as a result of the film will bring hope, healing, and a realization among viewers that they are loved. We sell screening packages on our website to help facilitate these discussions.
If you would like to learn more about the film, visit its website to watch the trailer, find links to watch the full film, learn how you can schedule or attend a screening, and access the personal screening kits and discussion guides.
While the film deals with heavy themes, the storytelling and arc provide a refreshing understanding of God’s love and how we can deepen our own sense of worthiness. It’s a beautiful thing when artists of faith are able to use their medium to convey truth, and HOSEA does it well.