It’s her eyes and innocent face that first grab your heart. At least they grabbed mine. Annika, a delicate young girl, has been unwittingly handed into virtual slavery by her homeless father.
Sweatshop labor and sex-for-sale portend a bleak future. She seems precious, blameless, so undeserving of this hell. But life is cheap for an outcast like her, unless someone intervenes.
Enter Caden, a spoiled, rich, 20-year-old Southern California student, who wrestles with mean streets and his own mean self in reaching the reluctant conviction that he should be that someone.
Roadblocks include greedy pimps, sleazy flesh brokers, beefy thugs, plus his own indifference and faith disappointments. Others’ prejudice and apathy complicate his quest.
Rescuing their Future
Rescuing the future for Annika and millions like her is the noble cause permeating the film Not Today.
“Your ticket in is their ticket out” claims the plug for the fictional but reality-based feature movie opening in selected U.S. cities April 12. Profits go toward combating human trafficking. The cast includes Cody Longo (Hollywood Heights), John Schneider (October Baby, Smallville, The Dukes of Hazzard), Shari Rigby (October Baby, The Bold and the Beautiful) and Cassie Scerbo (Make It or Break It, Hot in Cleveland).
Selling humans for labor and sex is widespread and profitable.
The U.S. State Department reports, “The United States is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children – both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals – subjected to forced labor, debt bondage, involuntary servitude, and sex trafficking.”
The International Labor Organization, a United Nations agency, “estimates that 20.9 million people” worldwide “are victims of forced labor,” generating $44 billion annually in illegal profits. Not Today is set in India; Annika and her father are Dalits, members of the lowest caste. Though India’s constitution outlaws caste discrimination, de facto social discrimination exists. An arm of Friends Church in affluent Orange County, California, produced the film.
Modern-Day Abolitionists “Friends” are Quakers. “Quaker” may make you think of the smiling guy on the oatmeal carton or perhaps the rural, reserved believers who shun modern society. (For the latter, think Amish, not Quaker.) In fact, Quakers have a long history of social activism. In centuries past, many labored to abolish slavery. These modern-day abolitionists carry that torch for today’s disenfranchised.
Friends Church supports groups seeking to eradicate the caste system in India. They see education as vital and committed $20 million toward building 200 Dalit Educational Centers to help lift Dalits out of the poverty that fuels human trafficking.
Biblical convictions about human life’s value seem to be driving this. Not Today executive producer and Friends Church lead pastor Matthew Cork explains: “For centuries Dalits, the ‘lowest of the low,’ have grown up believing they are less than animals…. Christianity tells them they are made in the image of God.” That notion actually has Jewish roots. Moses, the great Jewish liberator, wrote, “God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
Precious Image; Worthy Cause
Precious children like Annika – and the millions she represents – are formed in God’s image and need help.
Actor Cody Longo expresses personal commitment to the effort: “Our goal as storytellers is to start a global conversation. … Human- trafficking is everyone’s issue and should be everyone’s cause.” While I appreciate his enthusiasm, calling trafficking “everyone’s issue” seems hyperbolic. Poverty, hunger, abuse, racism, corruption, sickness, spiritual emptiness, mental illness, domestic strife, AIDS …. Gasp! Where does the list of legitimate needs end?
Of course, no one can assist every worthy cause, but many can do something. Not Today’s cause certainly merits wide attention. Maybe yours. PG-13 for “Mature Thematic Material”