A film about child trafficking takes on summer blockbusters

(Angel Studios) Lucas Avila and Jim Caviezel in Sound of Freedom.

“Sound of Freedom,” a thriller starring Jim Caviezel as a federal agent who takes on child traffickers, won’t be the biggest box office hit of the summer. But it might be the most unlikely.

The film, which Angel Studios has smashed into distribution with The Chosen, a streaming series about the life of Jesus, was the third most viewed film in North America this past weekend. Its weekend sales of $19.7 million trailed only the horror film Insidious: The Red Door, which grossed $33 million its first weekend, and Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, which opened its second weekend on April 27 Grossed $.4 million.

Based on a true story, “Sound of Freedom” stars Caviezel as Tim Ballard, a US Department of Homeland Security agent who investigates pedophiles. (Ballard later founded the anti-trafficking group Operation Underground Railroad, became a frequent contributor to Fox News, and was appointed to a state advisory panel on human trafficking by former President Donald Trump.)

Some critics say the film appeals to the QAnon movement, which posits a false conspiracy theory accusing progressive elites of pedophilia. The Guardian called it a “QAnon borderline thriller.” According to a Rolling Stone article, “its mainstream accessibility makes it valuable as a recruitment tool.” In an interview, Angel CEO Neal Harmon said, “Anyone who sees this movie knows this movie isn’t about conspiracy theories,” adding, “It’s not about politics.”

Caviezel, who played the title role in Mel Gibson’s 2004 film The Passion of the Christ, seemed to allude to QAnon when promoting the film on Steve Bannon’s podcast, saying, “There’s a great storm coming,” a motto of the Movement. and the mention of “adrenochrome,” a hormone that QAnon adherents say the elites reap from their child victims.

A Caviezel representative did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did Operation Underground Railroad.

Though Sound of Freedom isn’t explicitly faith-based like other Angel projects — including The Chosen and His Only Son, a recent film about biblical patriarchs — it’s the latest example of an entertainment industry success story embracing an audience that is often overlooked by Hollywood.

According to Comscore, the film, which was independently produced for $14.5 million, has grossed more than $41 million since its domestic release on July 4 through last weekend. It was unusual that slightly more was earned on Sunday than on Saturday, said a Comscore media analyst. Angel Studios’ unorthodox Pay It Forward program, which allows fans to buy tickets online for those who might not otherwise see the film, may have helped. Ditto for its evolving status as political football: championed by the right, vilified by critics of the left.

Based in Provo, Utah, Angel uses crowdfunding to fuel its projects. More than 7,000 “angel investors” raised $5 million in exchange for a revenue share to help market “Sound of Freedom,” the company said.

“We believe the Hollywood gatekeeper system’s model of choosing content doesn’t choose the content that people want to see,” said Jared Geesey, Angel’s senior vice president of global sales.

Sound of Freedom’s producer Eduardo Verástegui and its director and co-writer Alejandro Gómez Monteverde hail from the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, Verástegui said in an interview, and most of the funding has come from Mexican donors. The movie was shot in 2018. His original distributor, Fox Latin America, discontinued him after Disney acquired 21st Century Fox in 2019. (A Disney spokesman said the studio never knew anything about the film.) It was acquired this year by Angel, which describes itself as a values-based studio.

Verástegui, the producer, acknowledged the polarization surrounding the film. He, too, promoted it on Bannon’s podcast. However, he said he hopes political differences could be put aside in favor of the film’s anti-trafficking message.

The film, which is just over two hours long, makes no mention of any specific QAnon policies. In many typical action film motifs, it portrays human trafficking and related problems, such as child sexual abuse images, as clear and growing, and suggests that the international affluent are among its consumers. The main cast includes Bill Camp and Mira Sorvino in a small role as Ballard’s wife.

In the credits, Caviezel addresses the audience and says the filmmakers hope Sound of Freedom will be “the ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ of 21st Century slavery.” He adds, “We believe this film can represent a major step forward in ending child trafficking.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Justin Scaccy

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