Director Alejandro Monteverde (Photo by Alan Espinosa/Getty Images)

Sound of a free press?

How did a film highlighting the sexual exploitation of children become a battle in the culture war?

Artillery Row On Cinema

Whether you identify as conservative, “based”, “woke” or liberal, you’d think that everyone would agree that child sex trafficking deserves our attention.

Apparently not.

The mainstream media have reviewed Alejandro Monteverde’s Sound of Freedom as a “crushingly dull child-abduction vigilante thriller”, “a QAnon tinged-thriller” and a “forgettable action flick”. These reviews are trying to build a narrative that this film is based on nothing but paranoid fantasy.

Sound of Freedom has been accused of being “full of pantomime villains”, offering a “false perception” of child trafficking, and building “a pattern of image-burnishing and mythology-building, a series of exaggerations”.

The existence of false claims does not mean there are not true ones

Some claims about child trafficking are fictional — but not all of them. There are “Pizzagates”, in other words, but there are also Jeffrey Epsteins and Marc Dutrouxs. The existence of false claims does not mean there are not true ones.

Sound of Freedom is based on a case from anti-child trafficking organisation Operation Underground Railroad, which in reality is far more grim than the film portrays. In Port-au-Prince, Haiti, a man called Guesno saw his child kidnapped. His son, Gardy, was led outside of church, put on the back of a stranger’s motorcycle, sold into sex slavery and is yet to be found.

It was this father who asked Tim Ballard — Founder of Operation Underground Railroad and former homeland security special agent, played by Jim Caviziel — the question: “Can you imagine going to bed at night knowing that one of your children’s beds is empty? And not knowing where that child is?” This question plays a key part in the film’s script. Apparently, these facts are not enough. Since when has the concept of “based on a true story” come under such scrutiny across Hollywood?

I’ve yet to read a review which accepts that the film’s child recruiter “villain” is based on a real woman. A former beauty pageant queen, she was accused of luring parents into thinking she wanted to make their children commercial models, before selling them into the sex trade of Colombia.

Passion of the Christ star Jim Caviziel has also been under fire, with Christianity mocked in almost every review. Descriptions include: “a manipulative movie that is hampered by erratic pacing, pantomime bad guys and an overfondness for shots of Caviezel weeping God-fearing, manly tears and “In the Passion of the Christ, Caviezel was nailed to a wooden cross. Here, his acting seems to be hewn from one”.

In a Vanity Fair article that promised to tell the story behind Sound of Freedom, the outlet did not once mention real stories or real names. Instead, they used the opportunity to further dig into “unsubstantiated” beliefs that Jim Caviezel had mentioned in interviews about his motivation to play this role.

Opinion and personal preference will always play a part in film reviews — but opinions shouldn’t lead a reviewer not to thoroughly and accurately explain what they have seen. When every mainstream account of the film is desperately attaching it to conspiracy groups like QAnon, you’ve got to ask yourself, why is no one talking about the contents of the film or the real-life stories that inspired it?

In the past, films based on a true story have been celebrated, with reviews pointing out discrepancies and creative dramatisation as default — and yet, I’ve not seen one review of Sound of Freedom that wants to shine a light on the facts. Nor do any of them mention the timeline of the movie. It was actually completed in 2018 but pulled from distribution when the Walt Disney Company acquired 20th Century Fox. It only resurfaced five years later when the filmmakers were able to reacquire the rights and distribute it elsewhere.

Pedophilia, sex-trafficking and the selling of children are not fiction. They should not be normalised, trivialised or politicised. It is this abominable industry, more than conspiracy theories, that should be put under a magnifying glass.

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