How ‘Song Without a Name’ Director Turned Father’s Journalism Into Child Trafficking Drama (Video)

Peru’s Oscar contender explores the dark history of kidnapped children through a mother who faces an unthinkable catastrophe

For decades, Peru has faced a terrible struggle against human trafficking, with kidnapping of infants spiking in the 1980s. “Song Without A Name,” the Peruvian contender for the Best International Film Oscar, explores that dark period in the country’s history through the eyes of a woman whose newborn child vanishes…along with the clinic the child was taken to.

Director Melina Leon, who is the third Peruvian woman to have her film selected for the Best International Film category, told TheWrap in an interview for its Awards Screening Series that her father, Ismael, inspired her debut work as he was one of the first journalists to investigate the child trafficking rings that had kidnapped thousands of newborns. In 1981, her father’s newspaper, La Republica, first hit newsstands with a front page story on the atrocities.

Leon was just born when her father began his investigative reporting, but when she came of age, she learned that her father received a call from a French woman who had come back to Peru to find her biological mother. But when she discovered that she had never been put up for adoption, she found Leon’s reports and realized that she was one of the newborns that had been kidnapped at birth.

“I learned that this was happening because of him. It was a very meaningful case for him because La Republica was his most important job,” Leon said. “In a way, he was in the heart of the story.”

As indigenous women were often the targets of these trafficking schemes, Leon wanted to make her protagonist, Georgina, an Andean woman. She found what she was looking for in Pamela Mendoza Arpi, whom she says had the balance she wanted to fight stereotypes about Andean women in Peru.

“There’s a stereotype that indigenous women are sad. I have to show that this story is sad and tragic, but she is also perfectly well and hopeful,” she said. “This is why when a friend showed me a picture of Pamela on Facebook I thought ‘This is exactly what I think will be good for Georgina.'”

For Mendoza, taking the role came with a sense of social responsibility, as she wanted to speak out for an indigenous community that, decades after the trafficking of their children began, is still having their cries for help ignored.

“I understood through Melina how the injustice in Peru is related to my personal experience. I just connected my truth to her truth,” she said. “I applied cultural tools and performing tools that I learned through theater, and it was a dialogue between those cultural and academic traditions.”

Watch the full interview with the director and star of “Song Without A Name” in the video above.