NASHVILLE (BP) — The numbers are staggering. There are more people in slavery today in the world than there were in the days of the transatlantic slave trade. An estimated 27 million people — men, women, boys and girls — are enslaved, held against their will, in brothels, factories and fields around the world at this very moment.
The soon-to-be released film “Not Today” is the first feature-length, faith-based film to tackle the issue of human trafficking. It opens in about 40 theaters Friday (April 12) and will move to other cities in the following weeks.
In the movie, Caden Welles, the film’s lead character, is unexpectedly introduced to a world few Americans know still exists: a thriving human-trafficking trade that often involves children. Welles, who is played by Cody Longo, travels to India and meets his opposite. Welles has access to material abundance and lives a carefree life; his counterpart has no resources, no voice and struggles to survive.
The film, which was shot on location in Hyderabad, India, highlights the startling dehumanization of the Dalit people, who are considered “untouchables” within India’s caste system. (Read about the Dalit in this 2010 BP story.)
The International Mission Board is one of 13 global partners in the movie’s promotion, highlighting ministry in the region through its South Asia Peoples group website (https://southasianpeoples.imb.org/NotToday). An IMB representative in South Asia called the movie an “eye-opener to the depth of the issues related to trafficking and modern-day slavery. The film “should motivate Christians to act,” the representative said.
Baptist Press recently spoke with Brent Martz, the film’s producer.
BAPTIST PRESS: This movie is really a story of redemption. Let’s talk about the story itself and how you begin in a high-end neighborhood in Southern California with a Lamborghini and you end up in the slums of India.
MARTZ: It was important for us to show the stark contrast between the blessings that we enjoy here in the United States and the total poverty that the Dalits live in in India. The Dalits are the untouchables of India, some 250 to 300 million people, roughly the population of the U.S., that live in virtual slavery every day. It is the worst poverty I have ever seen in my life. So in the film we take this affluent college student from Southern California, and we have him go to India to party with his friends — to have the experience of a lifetime. Well, he has the experience of a lifetime but it’s not at all what he had planned.
BAPTIST PRESS: Tell us about the Dalit people that are featured in “Not Today.”
MARTZ: The Dalits aren’t even considered worthy to be in the caste system. They have never even heard the word “dream,” because for them to dream means nothing because there is nothing that they can do in their culture to better their lives. It is a tragic, tragic situation, especially when you consider 90 percent of the people trafficked in India, which truly is the epicenter of human trafficking, are Dalits.
BAPTIST PRESS: You mentioned that the Dalit people are India’s most trafficked people group. I’ve read that more than 1.2 million children in India across that nation are trapped in human trafficking as prostitutes. This is as many children as people who live in Dallas, Texas. This is a massive issue, isn’t it?
MARTZ: You know, it is a huge issue. I have three kids: two daughters and a son. To put myself in an Indian father’s place, to be forced to choose between feeding my children, if I could only afford to feed two, what do I do with the third? I can’t even imagine that situation. So when I think of people selling their children, I used to be judgmental, but now I realize it is truly a life and death issue. To a great deal, the issue of human trafficking is motivated by poverty.
BAPTIST PRESS: What types of slavery are you talking about?
MARTZ: Human trafficking can mean many things. The first thing that pops into our minds is the idea of sex slavery, but in reality, most people that are trafficked today are in bonded labor. They are forced to work 12- to 16-hour days in inhumane conditions, sweat shops, you might say, and it is not just in India, it is around the globe. Bonded labor and sex trafficking are the two most prominent forms of human trafficking today.
BAPTIST PRESS: Now tell us about the little girl who plays the character “Annika” in the film. She is the one, not to give it away, who is trafficked.
MARTZ: She is actually a 7-year-old girl who attends one of the schools our church (Friends Church in Yorba Linda, Calif.) built in Hyderabad, India. Her real name is Persis Karen. I flew to India and auditioned 10 to 15 young girls from that school who had never acted before. Our director chose her to be Annika in the film. Her family had never traveled outside of their village, they had never been in a plane, never been to a hotel, so it was incredible to watch this young Dalit girl and her family travel across the country of India with us as we were filming. She does a fantastic job and her eyes definitely capture you and draw you into the story.
BAPTIST PRESS: You mentioned the film was shot in India. I wonder how much more powerful did that make it as contrasted with shooting the film on a back lot in Hollywood?
MARTZ: You know it was important to us that we filmed on location for many, many reasons. Just getting to India was an incredible challenge because we were told it would take three weeks to get our permit to shoot in India and it ended up taking nine months. That should have been an indication of what we were getting ourselves into. India is an incredibly beautiful country but it is also a very challenging country. The people are so amazing but it is a totally different culture. Every day was an opportunity for God to do another miracle.
BAPTIST PRESS: Now the issue of human trafficking is not just an international issue; it is an issue in the United States. Let’s talk about that for a few minutes.
MARTZ: Unfortunately human trafficking affects probably every major city in the U.S. I wish we could say that it didn’t exist here. It is easy maybe to put our head in the sand and say, that’s a problem that is halfway around the world, but it is happening here. We are hearing stories of human trafficking — bonded labor and sex slavery — right here in the U.S. nearly every week.
BAPTIST PRESS: Without even knowing it perhaps, to some degree most of us are already enmeshed in the trafficking issue, aren’t we?
MARTZ: We all deal with human trafficking every day. I said that one time and someone said they thought it was an overstatement. It is true because every day we are out there buying clothes, buying cell phones and other items. Yet in many cases these things are being sewn and put together by 4-year-olds, 5-year-olds, women, men, around the world in inhumane conditions in factories. They are selling the products to us at a cheap price so we can go to our favorite stores and buy them. There is a price to be paid for that, and whether it is clothes, chocolates, diamonds or the components of your cell phone, we may not be actively involved in sex slavery but we are involved in supporting things like human trafficking. Most of the time we are completely unaware of it.