US conservatives are crying foul over the hostile reception they say the media has shown for a blockbuster movie about child sex trafficking. But have they misconstrued legitimate criticism with yet another right-wing conspiracy theory?
The movie ‘Sound of Freedom’ has made waves in America. It’s a thriller based on the real-life adventures of Tim Ballard, a former DHS agent who launched Operation Underground Railroad (OUR), a nonprofit organization devoted to rescuing children from sex trafficking rings.
‘Sound of Freedom’ is one of those groundbreaking films that almost dare audiences not to like it. The gut-wrenching production by Mexican director Alejandro Gomez Monteverde throws a haunting spotlight on the child sex trafficking industry. As far as criminal activities go, human trafficking is now second only to the illegal drug trade in terms of raw profits in the US. According to data collected by the International Labour Organization, there were 24.9 million victims of human trafficking in 2016, of which 3.3 million were children. To put that stark figure another way, there are more people enslaved now, whether for labor or sex, than there were when slavery was deemed a legal trade.
Despite those sobering statistics, the sleeper hit movie has managed to attract no shortage of detractors. That should come as no surprise considering that the American heartland is fractured down the middle, with God-fearing conservatives on the one side and progressive liberals on the other in an eternal cultural war that takes no prisoners. On top of that, we are just one year away from yet another US presidential election. In other words, the venal world of politics has successfully derailed the crucial message of this film, which is simply the protection of children, who, it goes without saying, are equally precious to Democrats and Republicans alike.
First, let’s take a cursory look at how the legacy corporate media is spinning this humanitarian movie. ABC News opened its report on the “faith-based film” by connecting it to – yes – Donald Trump and his endless legal entanglements: “Former President Donald Trump on Wednesday night hosted a screening of the film ‘Sound of Freedom’ at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, one day after the revelation that… he is a target of the federal investigation into his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.”
So much for an impartial movie review, and it went downhill from there. The article went on to question the judgment of the film’s star, James Caviezel, who in the past has purportedly endorsed wild claims by the QAnon conspiracy that members of ‘the elite’ prey on children, not least to harvest their blood. Regrettably, ABC opted for cheap clickbait as opposed to focusing on the merits of the film itself, not to mention the gravity of the human trafficking situation.
CNN, meanwhile, seemed determined to radically play down the undeniable fact that the child sex trafficking industry is a serious problem. To support this view, the channel brought on Mike Rothschild, author of ‘The World’s Worst Conspiracy Theories’, to settle the score. But in doing so, the guest unwittingly made the case for such films.
“These films are created out of moral panic, they’re created out of bogus statistics, they’re created out of fear,” Rothschild said. “And with something like ‘Sound of Freedom’ it is specifically looking at QAnon concepts of these child trafficking rings that are run by the high-level elites, and only people like Tim Ballard and only people like Jim Caviezel, and by extension only people like the ticket buyer can help bring these trafficking rings down. So there’s a very participatory element. You’re not just going to see a movie… you are helping to bring down these pedophile rings and save children. Now it’s not true, but it’s a very comforting and warm feeling to have.”
Of all the criticism leveled against this film, that one is probably the most untenable. After all, awareness of a problem is the first step in being able to solve it, or at least dramatically reduce its consequences. Monteverde’s film is exactly what the director hoped it to be: a public call to action, which has all the potential to start a grassroots political movement to stop child trafficking in its tracks. But it seems that the left cannot accept the tragic reality of the film’s message as a political movement from the right threatens to gain ground.
Ballard, the former DHS investigator who risked everything to save children, stated for the record that every victim and predator represented in the film was based on true stories, and called it “sick” for critics to lump the production together with conspiracy theories.
“This is just some other agenda, who would want to get the backs or run interference for pedophiles and human traffickers? That’s the more important question in all this. Why would you want to lie to push an agenda whose goal is to have children be in captivity? It’s kind of sick,” Ballard told Fox News.
This brings us to the question: why have the major streaming companies, such as Netflix and Amazon, refrained from showing this film that promotes a very worthy cause? After all, these companies wasted no time signing up the hugely controversial 2020 French film, ‘Cuties’, featuring provocatively-dressed, twerking 11-year-old girls. Ironically, when ‘Cuties’ was released, QAnon conspiracy theorists claimed Netflix was distributing child porn and started tweeting about it with the hashtag #SaveTheChildren.
Meanwhile, many American conservatives argue they will never get a balanced review from Hollywood and the media due to the “anti-Christian slant” that they believe is working in the shadows against them. Caviezel believes ‘Sound of Freedom’ would win the Oscar for Best Picture “in a fair world,” Dexerto reported, but, just like ‘The Passion of the Christ’, the Academy “won’t touch it” due to anti-Christian bias.
Although such sentiments are tricky to prove, one need only reflect upon the dearth of religious Hollywood films – in a nation with 210 million Christians, or about 63% of the total population – to get the feeling that there just might be something to the argument. And considering that Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of the Christ’, which reeled in $370 at the domestic box office, is the highest-grossing R-rated film of all time, it certainly can’t be argued that there is no market for faith-based productions in the US.
Finally, some critics are alleging the thriller paints an inaccurate picture of the human trafficking problem and how children become victims to sexual predators in the first place. As it turns out they are right. While ‘Sound of Freedom’ mainly features total strangers kidnapping unsuspecting youth off the street, even providing chilling, real-life footage of children being whisked away in vehicles, the reality is that most young people are taken by people they know.
“It is worth noting that the movie took creative liberties in depicting the different methods of child trafficking,” wrote distribution company Angel Studios. “While instances do exist where children are transported in various vehicles, the majority of trafficking occurs through a manipulative grooming process.”
All things considered, it is vital to know how the majority of children are made victims to predators. At the same time, however, leveling criticism at this film for taking “creative liberties,” while introducing a subject that has been forever treated as taboo by the entertainment industry, appears to be the height of cynicism. After all, it would be nearly impossible to name a single Hollywood production that is not guilty of the very same charges.
The creators of this film, who have taken no small risk in exposing the dangerous trade in human flesh, deserve all the awards and trophies Hollywood has at its disposal. After all, it’s films like this that truly have the potential to change the world into a much better place, most of all for its most vulnerable inhabitants. This is probably something that both conservatives and liberals can agree on. It’s just unfortunate that politics has disrupted a vital message important to all Americans. Again.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.