Amazing Grace, a film by the Bristol Bay production company, goes on general release on Wednesday. It examines the life of Wilberforce, a member of Parliament who initiated a petition for the abolition of slavery which led to the passing of Britain's 1807 abolition law.
The Amazing Change Campaign has released its own online petition calling for legislation to stop contemporary slavery which is estimated to impact up to 27 million people. As of Feb. 20, there were 48,615 signatures on the petition.
(Wilberforce's 19th century petition was signed by 390,000 people; The Amazing Change Campaign hopes to reach the same target.)
The petition will eventually be sent to members of Congress and to world leaders to show the public desire for change.
"By calling upon these leaders to commit themselves to abolition, we [can] win the battle that began with William Wilberforce and bring an end to slavery," the campaign's website says.
Zach Hunter, the 15-year-old student spokesperson for the campaign, told Cybercast News Service he hopes the movement will "be a catalyst for change."
Hunter said the widespread support for the campaign is evidence that "the public has had enough of slavery and want[s] it to end."
Walden Media, the sister company of Bristol Bay, said the film and the movement have already drawn the attention of lawmakers in the U.S. who are now calling for a commission to investigate modern-day slavery.
Republican 2008 presidential nomination hopeful Sen. Sam Brownback (Kansas) on Friday introduced a resolution to honor Wilberforce.
"We must continue to follow Wilberforce's example and fight for the dignity and freedom of every person," he said. "It is intolerable that 200 years after Britain banned its slave trade, there are still hundreds of thousands of victims of human trafficking who are used as bonded labors, sex slaves, and in other horrifying capacities."
Sudan and Mauritania are among countries where slavery is still being practiced, according to anti-slavery campaign groups.
Moreover, the State Department says 600,000-800,000 men, women and children are trafficked across international borders each year, including up to 17,500 into the United States.
Victims are forced into prostitution, sweatshop labor or other forms of servitude and exploitation, it says.
"More than 150 years ago, the United States fought a devastating war that culminated in the elimination of slavery in this country," the State Department said in its 2006 Trafficking in Persons report.
"Although most nations have eliminated servitude as a state-sanctioned practice, a modern form of human slavery has emerged," it said. "It is a growing global threat to the lives and freedom of millions of men, women, and children."
Vice President of Walden Media Chip Flaherty told Cybercast News Service that the film highlights the fact that "one person can change his neighborhood, his country, the world" and shows that movies can move the public to action.
"We are very pleased that this film is raising awareness about the issue of slavery that Wilberforce tackled," Flaherty said. "Toward that end, there currently exist groups that are looking at injustices in the world that will be able to use this awareness [in] their good efforts."
Make media inquiries or request an interview about this article.
E-mail a comment or news tip to Payton Hoegh