Often times, true stories can be more emotional to watch on film than fictional ones, and Lion is certainly an example of that. Lion tells the true story of Saroo Brierley's life, starting with his childhood in Khandwa, India, where, at age five, he ended up lost from his mother and siblings. Watching the film as an American in 2017 (Brierley was lost in 1986), it's hard to imagine a child being lost from his parent with no hope of getting back home, but children still go missing every day in this country and in others, with around 400,000 children going missing in the U.S. each year, according to Missing Kids, and around 80,000 in India, according to Variety. (Although figures can differ on this and depend on the year and the definition of "missing".) Clearly, it's not just when we get Amber Alerts on our phones.
After a screening of Lion at Tumblr's offices in New York City, Luke Davies, the film's screenwriter; Maura Harty, the CEO of the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children; and artist Jeff Koons, one of the organization's board members, spoke about both the film and the staggering number of children who go missing around the globe during a Q&A panel.
"We grew up with Dennis the Menace, many of us. You know, little kid, maybe he'll run away for a day, do a couple things, and then come home again," Harty said. "But the world isn't made up of that." As Davies explained, "If there are 400,000 children that go missing and 398,000 end up turning up... I think a huge portion of the 80,000 who go missing in India each year are not accounted for." Harty also noted that for some countries it can be hard to get accurate data when it comes to the issue of missing children because "If you don't look, then you never know."
And the film, which is now nominated for seven Oscars including Best Picture, is helping more people find out about this problem. "I think we go a long way with a movie like this in raising the kind of awareness that gives us the opportunity to talk a little bit more about this," Harty said.
Chatting with Bustle before the screening, Harty said that one of the best things people can do to help missing children is to be ready to actively participate when you come across a child who is alone. "This little boy is seen by many to be either invisible or a menace of some sort," she said of Lion. "Well, children are neither of those things."
She continued, "Children are our most precious, valuable asset. Children are our future, so all of us need to feel empowered and ready to ask a little boy or a little girl, ‘Are you OK? How can I help you?' A missing child is a vulnerable child. Let's skip the part where they ever go missing."
If you see Lion, you'll find yourself feeling more than ready to help make stories like Brierley's a lot less common.