When Sound of Freedom first came out, I was hesitant to see it. As the father of two, there are few things more difficult to watch and contemplate than the horrific abuse and unconscionable evil portrayed in the film. And while none of the heinous acts were shown on camera, the movie leaves no doubt as to the nature of what was done to those precious children.
It’s really hard to watch, and that’s the point. The film doesn’t allow its audience to avoid the pain or ignore the tragedy.
And while not every instance of human trafficking will resemble what’s portrayed on the screen—Emily Belz’s article in Christianity Today offers an excellent profile of what it often looks like closer to home—Sound of Freedom still grants us an important glimpse into the horrors faced by far too many around the world.
Inspired by a true story
The movie is inspired by the real-life experiences of Tim Ballard—a former Special Agent for the Department of Homeland Security’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force—and portrays Ballard’s efforts to save children trapped and exploited by human trafficking.
The movie is not a documentary and never claims to be, with details and events altered in an effort to, in the words of the film’s director, “take entertainment and marry it to meaning.” That said, the overarching story is based largely on Ballard’s work with police in Columbia to break up what CBS News called at the time “a major sex-trafficking ring” in a country that had “become a destination for tourists looking for sex with boys and girls.”
And what happened in Columbia is hardly unique to Columbia.
UNICEF estimates that “every two minutes a child is being prepared for sexual exploitation,” and well over one million kids are trafficked every year. Almost a third of trafficking victims are children, with that proportion more than doubling in areas like Sub-Saharan Africa, Central America, and the Caribbean. And they warn such statistics likely underestimate the reality of the situation.
All of that to say, even if the details of what is portrayed in Sound of Freedom have been altered for the sake of the movie, the reality it portrays remains unspeakably horrific. And those horrors are as relevant here as anywhere else in the world, with America one of the most prevalent destinations for trafficked people—children and adults alike.
A QAnon conspiracy?
Despite, or perhaps because of, Sound of Freedom‘s success and powerful message, many have been quick to decry it as a “QAnon-adjacent thriller seducing America,” “a superhero movie for dads with brainworms,” or a host of other inaccurate and misleading insinuations.
To be clear, there is none of that in the film.
To whatever extent connections can be drawn, they do not come from the movie and are typically based more on some questionable claims made by the film’s lead actor—Jim Caviezel—about subjects like adrenochrome in interviews leading up to Sound of Freedom‘s release.
The film itself is, as Variety‘s Owen Gleiberman describes, “a compelling movie that shines an authentic light on one of the crucial criminal horrors of our time, one that Hollywood has mostly shied away from.”
If that’s true, though, and the allegations of QAnon conspiracy theories and attempts to brainwash the masses are false, why have they been accepted by so many?
Wrong solutions to real problems
As our culture becomes increasingly polarized, rejecting the wrong views is often a higher priority than accepting the right ones. For some, that means ignoring the very real and tragic truth about human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children because conspiracy theories exist about the same subject. That, again, the film itself never crosses that line or even hints in the direction of such beliefs is inconsequential to them.
Unfortunately, those who have denounced the film are not the only ones to have made the mistake of favoring an unreasonably extreme solution to an otherwise real problem.
Many who support Sound of Freedom have been quick to allege that Hollywood is either in league with or passively supporting human trafficking as the reason why the movie struggled to make it to the big screen. Justifiably moved by the horrors presented in the film, it can be easy to see anyone who would stand against its message as standing in favor of the problems it portrays. That the film’s release was delayed for five years has only added to such theories.
Sound of Freedom finished filming in 2018, but its rights were originally held by Fox.
When Disney purchased Fox around the time of its scheduled release, Disney chose to shelve it, and it took more than a year for them to release the rights to the film back to its creators. While such behavior can be construed as suspicious, Sound of Freedom was far from the only project that received such treatment.
However, such difficulties—when coupled with viral reports of technical glitches during showings of the film—have caused some to allege that Hollywood has been trying to suppress the movie. To be sure, Hollywood is certainly no bastion of biblical morality, and sexual abuse has long been a problem within their ranks. Yet fears that the film would not be profitable—which, ultimately, proved incorrect—offer a more reasonable explanation for the resistance it has experienced than the notion that the industry favors the sexual exploitation of children.
Choosing hope over fear
Whether it’s giving undue credibility to conspiracy theories or avoiding hard subjects because they make us uncomfortable, we must never allow the truth to become secondary because it does not fit neatly into how we would prefer to see the world.
God calls us to more than that.
So if you see Sound of Freedom or read about the sexual exploitation it portrays and leave feeling outraged and motivated to do something to help those trapped in such horrific circumstances, great. Just make sure that your enthusiasm to do something doesn’t cause you to run right past the truth of how you can make the greatest difference.
But if your initial response, like mine, is to leave feeling disheartened and overwhelmed, that’s ok too. But the fear that the problem is too big should never keep us from doing something.
As Caviezel said in his message at the film’s conclusion, “Living in fear isn’t how we solve this problem. It’s living in hope. It’s believing that we can make a difference—because we can.”
Publication date: July 14, 2023
Photo courtesy: ©Angel Studios, used with permission.
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.
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