“Why Everybody Needs to See Sound of Freedom”
10 minute read
At around 11pm on Thursday the 31st of August, the world felt like a dark place.
I left the movie theatre feeling emotionally numb; barely able to say thank you to the person that held the door open for me.
As I walked back towards my car, my eyes never lifted from the ground. I remember passing a couple of people and I recall a car slowing down to let me cross the road, but everything was a blur.
I drove home with tears in my eyes, not really knowing how to feel about what I’d just watched. But as I got into bed and switched off the light, I started replaying Sound of Freedom in my head and the overwhelm became too much.
That night, the last thing I remember is crying.
For anybody that has not yet heard about Sound of Freedom, it’s based on the true story of Tim Ballard, a former US Homeland Security agent who having spent years pursuing the consumers of child pornography, grew increasingly frustrated at only being able to tackle the end-users of the material.
With a child sex trafficking industry that’s growing at a horrifying rate and is affecting millions of children throughout the world; he needed to do more.
He needed to get to the source, and he needed to save the children.
Instead of writing a lengthy description of what the wider story is about, please watch the official trailer by clicking on the thumbnail below.
The opening credits alone are enough to give you nightmares, and the imagery is still haunting me.
Consisting of grainy black-and-white CCTV footage, we’re subjected to a collection of horrifying incidents in which children are kidnapped in the plain light of day. Sometimes by gentle coercion, but mostly by force, and in some cases the children are quite literally ripped away from their family, with the perpetrator escaping with the child on the back of a motorbike.
While the movie does not state whether or not the footage is real, a number of online sources state that it is, and given that we’ve seen similar footage on the news over the years, I have absolutely no doubt as to its authenticity.
The rest of the audience were equally as shocked, with an audible collection of gasps and Oh My God’s running through the theatre. While thankfully the movie does not linger too much on the graphic details of its subject matter, and is neither gratuitous nor exploitative, it plants more than enough seeds in your mind.
And just like in the most effective of horror movies, what haunts us most is not necessarily in what we actually see, but rather in what it makes our mind see. Our imaginations can torment us, and this makes Sound of Freedom one of the most terrifying movies I’ve ever seen.
The first act, which drags us deep into the darkest corners of this world, is absolutely ruthless in its set-up; and the first 45 minutes left me feeling like my guts had been ripped out and thrown on the floor. If the faces of the audience were to be filmed then I’m sure they’d look similar to that of Tim, who has the eyes of a broken man that has seen too much.
One scene in particular won’t leave me, with the statistics of the child sex trafficking and child slavery industry leaving me speechless; stating that as an international crime network it’s already surpassed the illegal arms trade, and that its set to rise above the drug trade.
“A bag of cocaine can only be sold once, but a five-year-old child can be sold five to ten times a day, for ten years straight.”Jim Caviezel as Tim Ballard, Sound of Freedom
To think that countless numbers of children are caught up in this throughout the world is sickening, and to consider the most innocent of humans as a re-usable product is abhorrent.
While drugs are something that are taken voluntarily and which mostly affect only the person that’s taking them (1), the same cannot be said of a child that is being used in ways that a child should never be used.
Because even for those few that eventually manage to escape their captors, the effects of the abuse that they’ve been subjected to will be with them for a lifetime.
The second they’re forced into that world; their lives are all but ruined.
One of the most shocking aspects surrounding Sound of Freedom is in how the movie has been released.
In terms of box office sales, at the time of writing this article it’s taken in $181 million, outgrossing many of this summer’s big-budget pictures (2). This in itself is impressive, but when you consider the muted cinema release that it’s had, it starts to tell a much more significant story.
Clearly the public have an appetite to see movies of depth and which touch upon hard-hitting subjects, so why has it been promoted so poorly and why has it been made so difficult to see?
At the time of pre-booking my seat for the opening night of its UK release, there was only one independent cinema in Nottingham that was showing it. It wasn’t listed at the multi-plex cinemas, nor was it listed at any of the other indie-cinemas. And it was only being shown once.
One night. One showing. One tiny cinema.
In a major UK city.
Thankfully, Sound of Freedom has since spread to other cinemas and with multiple showings available, but interest has mainly been generated by word-of-mouth, and also from the notoriety that’s developed as a result of the controversy surrounding it.
Yet the only controversy that I’m aware of is in how it’s been linked with one particular right-wing conspiracy group (3); and this seems to have been intentionally weaponised in order to discredit the movie.
But this leads me to ask one very simple question.
Why the fuck would anybody not want this film to exist?
I mean, seriously. Why?
Why would anybody not want the horrors of child sex trafficking to be exposed? Why wouldn’t anybody get behind an effort to bring an end to one of the worst horrors imaginable?
And why is it being avoided so much by the mainstream media?
The potential answers to these questions are exactly what’s fuelling the conspiracy theories. Make of it what you will, but you have to admit that it’s pretty suspect, right?
While I’m not going to go into the details of what these conspiracy theories consist of or why some people may want the movie to disappear, what I am going to go into is why all the so-called controversy is so ludicrous.
As the end-credits rolled during the theatrical release of Sound of Freedom, a countdown appeared on the screen, stating that a special announcement was to follow. The timer went from 2 minutes to zero, and then lead actor Jim Caviezel appeared on screen and launched an appeal to the audience to spread word about the movie.
During this announcement he tells us that Sound of Freedom had been filmed and completed for five years before it managed to get its release (4). This means that the movie would likely have already been written before a lot of these conspiracy-theories appeared in the conscience of the mainstream.
However, even if the conspiracy-theories did happen to have existed at the time of writing, the movie does not involve accusations of a conspiratorial nature. In fact, I was surprised at just how little inference is present in the movie, and there are no links whatsoever to the very things that have made it so controversial.
To me, it is simply a dramatization of a true story, and one that desperately needs to be told. And while there may be aspects of the movie where some artistic licence is afforded, the same can be said of any true story that has been adapted to film.
But the simple fact is that even if the movie is only, say, 70% factual, that’s still 70% more than the reality should ever be. And we mustn’t lose sight of that point.
While Sound of Freedom is a ‘proper’ movie, it is primarily a call-to-action. It’s an appeal. And in my eyes, this makes it exempt from much of the scrutiny and criticism that it’s received from some critics (5). Because what’s most important about Sound of Freedom isn’t in how well it’s been filmed, how it flows, or whether it lives up to the same standards of other ‘search-and-rescue-thrillers’, as one critic labelled it.
It’s about what the movie is telling us.
I mean, if a person of significance stood before a huge audience and told everybody about a horrifying reality that was taking place in the world, would we criticise them and discredit their story just because of how it was structured or the way in which it was delivered?
Or would we be grateful to that person for being brave enough to take a stand, and for bringing such an important story to our attention so that we can do something about it?
Sound of Freedom is not trying to make an impact by being an incredible piece of cinema (6).
It’s trying to make an impact by inspiring a movement.
While Sound of Freedom is now achieving some degree of recognition, I’m still shocked as to just how little it’s being talked about on a day-to-day basis (7).
To date, I have only spoken mutually to one other person about this film, but outside of this one conversation, nobody else has said a word. In fact, nobody I’ve spoken to has even heard of it. Why is this?
I mean, you can’t walk five feet without somebody talking about Barbie or The Meg 2, so are people really more interested in Jason Statham battling a massive fucking shark than they are in talking about the issues raised in Sound of Freedom? (8)
It’s not an easy question to answer, but it seems to me that people are either unaware that the movie exists, or they’re simply uncomfortable with it. And I get that.
Talking about child sex trafficking, child slavery, or sexual abuse of any kind is about as uncomfortable as it gets. There’s no respite in those topics. There’s no light in that kind of darkness.
“Most people don’t want to know. It’s too ugly for polite conversation.”Jim Caviezel as Tim Ballard, Sound of Freedom
And so very often when there’s something that we’re uncomfortable with, we turn away from it. We ignore it.
We pretend that it doesn’t exist.
But it does exist. It is real. And it’s affecting people every single day, in every corner of the globe. And if what the movie is telling us is correct, then it’s only going to get worse.
As I sat watching the movie and was fighting to control my own emotions, several people left the cinema in tears. Three of them didn’t return.
While taking deep breaths in order to stop myself from crying, my mind naturally wandered to things that I’ve witnessed in my own life; things which added an extra layer of weight to Sound of Freedom.
When I was in Thailand almost twenty years ago, I was staying in a beach hut on the island of Koh Samui. One night, I was sat outside on the porch reading a book, and I could hear somebody having sex in the beach hut next to mine.
This kind of thing isn’t unusual when you’re backpacking, and at first, I thought it was funny; until it no longer was. And so, I went to bed and turned on the fan, hoping that it would drown out the noise.
Early the following morning, I was back out on the porch reading my book, and I heard the door opening at the hut next to mine. I was curious as to who the couple were that I’d been hearing through the night, and so I looked up from my book.
But what I saw almost made me sick, because walking down the steps of the hut was a middle-aged white man, holding the hand of a young Thai boy.
I’ll never forget the feeling in my stomach in that moment.
I spent the next few hours in turmoil, and I ran through every possible scenario trying to decide what to do. In the end I decided to wait for him to return, and then I could go and report him. But by the later point of that afternoon he still hadn’t returned, and when I walked over towards the hut, I could see that the door had been left open and that it was empty inside. He was gone.
The following year I was travelling in Cambodia and I found myself heading out to one of the coastal towns for a couple of days. While I was sat at a bar one night having a quiet drink by myself, I got talking to an American man that had sat down beside me.
We talked for a long time, swapping the usual travel stories, and it turned out that he was a journalist. As the conversation continued to flow, he told me that he was out in Cambodia writing about sex tourism and the child prostitution industry. He then told me about a nearby theme park that he was investigating; a place in which the owner allowed children to go there for free.
Only, it wasn’t really free for them. They had to earn it.
Much closer to home, around the same time as these trips, I was volunteering as a support worker for victims of crime.
The team that I worked in was mainly made up of retirees and middle-aged people, with almost 90% of the group being female. As the only young male volunteer, I was chosen to deal with all the assault cases that had taken place on other young males; the rationale being that they’d better relate to a younger man, such as myself.
One case that I was assigned involved a recovering heroin addict that had been brutally beaten. He described the viciousness of the attack and how he’d been stomped on so hard that the sole of the perpetrator’s shoes had left an imprint on his face.
He was convinced that he’d have been killed that night, had it not been for a passer-by that scared off the attacker.
When I asked him what had provoked the attack, he told me that it was related to drugs. But when he slowly began to open up further, he told me about a much bigger crime network in the area; one that was getting kids involved in drugs. And when the addiction took a grip on the kids and they couldn’t afford to pay, their only option was to get involved in pornography.
I never asked how old the other kids were, but the young man that I was supporting was barely out of school.
I quit my role as a volunteer not long after this case. (9)
I’ve only included these examples from my own life as a way of demonstrating just how real these things are, witnessed both on the other side of the world, and also on my very own doorstep.
It’s a dark and sickening subject that nobody could ever be comfortable talking about. But to ignore it, to sweep it under the rug, and to pretend it doesn’t exist is not the answer.
Because like it says in the movie, at the rate in which this problem is growing, if it is left ignored then it’s only a matter of time before it reaches you.
And as Tim asks one person who is hesitant to help during his pursuit of a missing girl.
“What if it was your daughter?”
At this point you’re perhaps asking the same question that I’ve been asking myself.
What can we do about it?
I’m pragmatic in my answer to this, and I have no delusions of grandeur by writing this article. I’m not sitting here puffing out my chest, ranting to the world and believing I can solve this problem by writing a fucking article. Far from it.
And so, my honest answer to that question, is that we can do very little. Yet that’s all we actually need to do.
Let’s be real about this; people like you and I cannot head out into the world and fix this problem (10). That is the job of people that are way above where we are.
Tim Ballard did his bit. The people he worked with did their bit too. The director, writer, and everybody involved in making Sound of Freedom did their bit. The movie studio, the cinemas that showed it, and anybody involved with the promotion of the movie did their bit also (11).
Now, it’s time for us to do ours.
And all we have to do is spread the word. Go see the movie. Ask other people to go too. Talk about it. Have conversations. Because if you spread the word to one person and they do the same; it then spreads to another, and another, and another; until one day, everybody knows about it and it’s in the active conscience of everybody.
Once this happens, people will care about it as an outward collective, and they’ll demand that action be taken. And while I accept that I’m no expert in these matters, when election time arrives and politicians are looking for ways to win the votes of the public; wouldn’t tackling this subject be the perfect way to get everybody on board? (12)
Ignoring it will only allow things to get worse, but collectively, our small contributions can add up.
Just think of all the changes and movements that we’ve seen in the world over the years. Things that have started out small and then escalated into something much, much bigger. It’s been proven time and time again, that when enough people care and those people care enough, the result can be radical action and significant change.
And when it comes to the safety and protection of children, there is simply no other option than to do the right thing.
“There are more humans trapped in slavery today than at any other time in history. Including when slavery was legal.
Millions of those slaves are children.”Sound of Freedom
I’ve never appealed to my readers before to do anything, but this is the one time where I’m asking; please go and see this movie, and then please tell other people about it, even if it’s just one other person.
Because to echo the philosophy behind Sound of Freedom, the power is in the storyteller.
Tell this story.
Tell your story.
Every contribution counts.
Click here to access the Angel Studios website, and to find cinema listings near you.
(1) I appreciate this comment is a generalisation and so please don’t take it too literally. While the basis of this is true, it is also true that there are instances in which the consumption of drugs is not voluntary. I am also aware that the impact of drugs extends beyond the user, affecting their families, friends, the wider community, and which include violent acts in which innocent people get hurt. I include this footnote as recognition of that and to extend respect to any innocent person that has ever been hurt by the use of drugs. However, including this within the article itself didn’t seem necessary.
(2) I wasn’t able to find out how the box office revenue was made up in terms of which countries generated the most. But given the shocking statement that the United States is the biggest consumer of child sex trafficking in the world, my guess would be that it’s the US audiences that have made up most of this revenue.
(3) And I’ve intentionally omitted their name as I don’t want to contribute to them being linked with Sound of Freedom in any search engine findings.
(4) Jim also states that during those 5 years the movie had every imaginable obstacle thrown in its way. And from that alone you have to ask yourself, why would anybody of sound mind and conscience want to stop this film from being released? That in itself is enough to fuel conspiracy theories.
(5) As an example of how it’s sometimes impossible to meet everybody’s expectations, I’ve seen the movie twice now and at both screenings it reduced people to tears. Yet at one showing I heard one woman exiting the cinema, saying “well that wasn’t as harrowing as I expected it to be.” I was stunned. I mean, what the fuck was she expecting? And how can the knowledge that what she saw is true, be anything but harrowing?
(6) Though in my opinion it is a wonderful piece of cinema and is brilliantly filmed on what was a relatively low budget. And with the subject matter that it has to deal with, it manages to walk the delicate line between what it shows us, and what is inferred, with grace and sensitivity. When the more action-oriented scenes finally arrive, they actually serve as necessary respite from the torment of the first act, which had left me struggling to breathe.
(7) This comment is of course, subjective. I’m referring to what I’ve seen, heard, and read, both in the media, and in the real world. Your reality may be different to mine. This is purely my own opinion.
(8) That is in no way a dig towards Jason Statham or these movies, and I actually really liked The Meg 2 (Barbie, not so much). Despite being a load of bollocks, seeing Mr Statham physically fight a megalodon was good fun, but, I’m sure you get my point here.
(9) I was reluctant at first to include these examples because I hate the idea of it looking like I’m making this in any way about me. That thought makes me cringe. But I realised that it was absolutely necessary to include them in order to add some extra depth and immediacy to the message of this article. This is not just a movie. It is real life. And it is already on our own doorsteps. While I would never compare my experiences to those that were had by Tim, it does however allow me to extend my utmost respect to him and to anybody that works in this field. After just two years of this work, in which I also had to cover other cases of sexual abuse, it was enough to destroy my faith in people. And that was without actually seeing anything. When Tim says that the job is one that tears you apart, he deserves the respect of everybody for doing it, because he’s sacrificed part of his soul in order to save what is now hundreds and hundreds of children. Please also listen to the podcast episode mentioned in footnote #11, to hear more about Tim’s story and the ways in which it affected his life.
(10) Though we can still try. So if you would like to go further in your contribution, please head over to the Angel.com website by clicking this link, and find out further ways to educate yourself on this topic, and ways in which to join the fight against child trafficking.
(11) Even as an avid movie fan who keeps his finger on the pulse for new movie releases (even my favourite (now ex favourite) movie magazine only dedicated a thumbnail size mention to Sound of Freedom, along with a mediocre rating), my very first knowledge of the movie didn’t come until mid-July of this year. I only found out about it while listening to Lewis Howes’ The School of Greatness podcast (episode 1469 – 15th July 2023), in which he interviewed Tim Ballard. Otherwise I may never have known of its existence. Again, why has this movie been kept so quiet?
(12) Of course, this means that the elected parties would actually need to do something about it once they’re in power, but that’s a whole other subject. The point is, this is at least a good place to start.
Have you been to see Sound of Freedom yet? Do you have any thoughts or opinions on anything you’ve just read? Do you have anything to share that you feel that myself and other readers would benefit from knowing, or which you may wish to discuss for your own reasons? Can you think of any other ways in which word about this movie and the subject matter can be extended to a wider audience? Do you have any other related thoughts about this article that you’d like to share with other readers? Or do you have any questions of your own to ask that either myself or my readers can give an opinion on? Please feel free to leave a comment below and we’ll begin a conversation.
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