Sound of Freedom generates controversy and creates conversation around a call to action

By Esther Fultz

Human trafficking is not a topic many people want to discuss. Although the vast majority of people in both Christian and secular circles agree that human trafficking is a horrific atrocity, overwhelmingly few have actually done something to address the issue, and most of us remain undereducated on the magnitude of the problem. 

“Sound of Freedom,” released in theaters on July 4, 2023, is a film that attempts to bring this issue to light. Jim Caviezel portrays Tim Ballard, a federal agent who is determined not only to find and arrest traffickers, but also to reunite victims of human trafficking with their families. After reuniting a young boy with his father, and learning that his sister is still captive, Ballard quits his jobsto set out on a dangerous journey to rescue her from her captors and bring her back home.

With a modest $14.5 million budget, “Sound of Freedom” has made more than 10 times its money back, with a domestic box office intake of over $184,000,000 and a worldwide intake of over $247,000,000. Yet like many well-known films, “Sound of Freedom” is not without controversy. 

According to Sean O’Connor, Assistant Professor of Broadcasting, Digital Media, and Journalism, one major controversy related to the film is the fact it portrays a real person while not completely keeping to the facts of what happened in the real story.

“My understanding is that when they were initially making the movie, [Tim Ballard] actually encouraged them, don’t make it about me, make it about someone like me so you can take more artistic liberties, which movies do all the time with true stories,” O’Connor said. “They ended up obviously having him as a real person in the film and his real family. Because of that, there are certain moments in the film, especially near the end that are very much exaggerated in terms of what his role actually was, and turned this mission into sort of like more of an action movie than a true story because the true story probably isn’t as compelling enough for a movie.”

Additionally, reports exist of inappropriate conduct among some of the people involved in the story of “Sound of Freedom”. 

“Some of these things are true, some of them are false or at least exaggerated,” O’Connor said. “And that’s hard to know. I think with a film like this with such intense subject matter that very much leans towards one direction in the political spectrum, a lot of things are going to be debated about and potentially blown out of proportion but also scrutinized in certain ways.”

Another area of initial controversy was the Pay it Forward campaign Angel Studios used to ensure that those interested in seeing the movie would have an opportunity to do so. Critics worried that the numbers reported would only reflect the number of tickets purchased rather than accurately reflecting the number of people who actually went to see the movie. However, this issue has been more or less dispelled, as the numbers reported only reflected the number of tickets purchased and acted upon. 

Jim Caviezel in “Sound of Freedom”

One of the most popularized areas of interest is the amount of time the film took to reach the box office. Although “Sound of Freedom” was completed back in 2018, it was not shown in theaters until this year. Certain conspiracy theories exist regarding the reason for this due to the fact that some of the people involved with making “Sound of Freedom” are to some degree associated with right-wing conspiracy theorists. 

“Some people who don’t understand how filmmaking works just assume that it’s all just a big conspiracy and that’s not beneficial,” O’Connor said. 

According to O’Connor, this delay was both positive and negative. On the one hand, the cost of the film increased the longer it was on the shelf because more interest accumulated for investors. On the other hand, the delay gave filmmakers more time to advertise, which is particularly helpful for independent filmmakers who don’t have large budgets for advertising.

Dr. Michael Sherr, Assistant Dean of the School of Education and Social Work, believes that although the film may romanticize the number of parents who are reunited with their children, it is realistic in many respects.

“I thought it was well done,” Sherr said. “One aspect I thought was particularly realistic is how fast it happens. [Although the film takes place in] poor Latino culture, I think any parent could resonate with how easily something bad could happen.”

However, both Sherr and O’Connor agreed that the action call at the end was underwhelming. 

“As the credits are rolling, Jim Caviezel is appealing to the audience to spread the word about this movie,” O’Connor said. “He does not say to spread the word about these organizations that are already in place to stop child trafficking. I’ve had conversations with a number of people who were involved in the distribution of The Sound of Freedom and they agreed the call to action is a little unclear.”

While Sherr noted that spreading the word about the movie could be helpful to increase viewing in educational settings, he believes addressing the issue of human trafficking could ultimately be an issue for churches to address. 

“I think it has more to do with the demand than the supply,” Sherr said. “There are a lot of people, mostly men, who create the demand. I think Christian men need to take a look in the mirror and be honest with ourselves about what we engage in, and then that leads into society. I don’t think we are ever going to eradicate it from the supply side. I think movies like this would be useful if senior pastors would allow movie nights with an in-depth discussion afterwards focused on this topic.”

Esther Fultz is a senior Social Work major and the Off Campus Editor for Cedars. When she’s not writing or editing for Cedars she enjoys thrifting, making coffee, exploring new places, and spending time with friends.

2 Replies to "Sound of Freedom generates controversy and creates conversation around a call to action"

  • comment-avatar
    mike barnes January 18, 2024 (7:48 am)

    Esther great job, keep it up please

  • comment-avatar
    Linda February 26, 2024 (6:45 pm)

    Without wasting my time reading the article the title tells me you missed the whole point

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