Local trauma and abuse nonprofit praises local theaters and film for bringing attention to crimes
NORTH COUNTY — On July 4, a film that took years in the making finally hit the box offices — and the reviews have ranged between extreme criticism, acclaim, or deemed not worthy of recognition. Based on true encounters of anti-sex-trafficking activist and former government agent Tim Ballard, “Sound of Freedom” centers around Ballard’s Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.), an anti-sex-trafficking nonprofit founded in 2013 which conducts sting operations in and outside the United States.
Specifically, the film focuses around a mission in which Ballard embarked to rescue children from sex traffickers in Colombia. Released by Angel Studios, the film has grossed over $85 million worldwide. Despite its on-the-surface box office success, “Sound of Freedom” has garnered criticism from the ground up.
Since July 4, local theaters, including Park Cinemas in Paso Robles and Colony Theater in Atascadero have run the film in their showtime listings. And local anti-sex-trafficking nonprofit founder Lisa Majors praises the theaters for doing so.
“Jennifer [Roush-Kloth, part owner of Park Cinemas] worked hard to get [‘Sound of Freedom’] to Park Cinemas and she gave us the opportunity to show one of our infomercials which has three voices of local survivors,” Majors told Paso Robles Press/Atascadero News.
Majors founded her nonprofit Resilient Souls in 2019 to support those impacted by trauma and abuse. Many of the survivors she works with are survivors of sex trafficking. As a child, a family member of Majors was a victim of sex trafficking, which drastically affected her and her family as there were no resources available to them during that time. Resilient Souls operates in North County at an undisclosed location.
“Our goal is to create community awareness on how to deal with trauma and address abuse,” Majors said. “Victims for far too long have had no voice, and now [the film] opened up an amazing window in a time such as this to be able to speak out about their own trauma.”
Since the film’s opening day, Majors and volunteers with her nonprofit have operated an information booth outside of the showing room. Each day of its showing, approximately 100-150 people have come to watch the film. Originally slated to show through July 10, as of July 18, “Sound of Freedom” will be showing at Park Cinemas on two screens through July 27.
“To hear the support, the caring from the public [at Park Cinemas] brought tremendous healing to them too in the last few weeks,” said Majors.
According to an article written by Rebecca Rubin for Variety, “Sound of Freedom” generated $14.2 million on opening day, placing “third on domestic box office charts behind ‘Insidious: The Red Door’ ($32.6 million) and ‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny’ ($26.5 million).”
Completed in 2018, the film was originally slated to run at 20th Century Fox before it was acquired by Disney. However, after its acquisition, the film was shelved. According to the same Variety article, “A Disney spokesperson says the studio had no knowledge of ‘Sound of Freedom,’ adding the prior deal was arranged by an international division of Fox for distribution only in Latin America. Post-acquisition of Fox, the filmmakers bought back the rights. It’s now being distributed independently by Angel Studios.”
So why has the film received so much criticism?
Critics of the film have accused the film to be linked to conspiracy-based groups such as QAnon and of embellishing the reality of child exploitation and sex trafficking. Several articles from Rolling Stone reflected this criticism saying “The QAnon-tinged thriller about child-trafficking is designed to appeal to the conscience of a conspiracy-addled boomer” and “The new movie offers a ‘false perception’ of child trafficking that experts worry could further harm the real victims.”
But to someone like Majors, the film is all too real and too relevant to be ignored.
“With the movie, I know there has been some kickback from different cultures that deny the truth,” said Majors. “The movie shows actual footage, and there’s hundreds of law enforcement and military people involved in things, and there’s hundreds of survivors that can testify that this is true and it’s happening. And it is coming over the border. Children’s lives are at stake, and they are our most precious commodity.”
At the Park Cinemas showings of “Sound of Freedom,” a Resilient Souls infomercial is played highlighting three stories with three different scenarios of victims and survivors who work with Resilient Souls. Majors says with the film’s release, and more attention being brought to the crisis of sex trafficking within the last few years, victims of the crime are more willing to talk about it on a public platform, whereas before, the stigma and misconceptions kept them quiet.
“It’s world-changing. It’s freedom for me. Freedom for all the people I work with,” said Majors of the film.
Whether coincidence or divine intervention, on July 13 San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow released a public letter urging Assemblymember Dawn Addis (D-Morro Bay) to vote yes on Senate Bill 14, which would make human trafficking of a minor a “serious” strike felony. The bill was brought to the floor by Senator Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield).
In the letter, Dow says, “This crime should actually be made a ‘violent’ strike offense, not merely ‘serious.’ But, SB 14 is an important first step in the right direction. This is not a partisan issue. This is about protecting our children and sending a loud message to every person who traffics children: no one is more vulnerable than our children and more deserving of our protection from predators.”
The same day, Addis published a press release declaring her support for the bill, “Everyone agrees that child human trafficking is wrong. I believe it should be a serious felony offense. I stand in solidarity with survivors and their families in support of Senate Bill 14 to end these heinous crimes.”
Earlier this year, Addis introduced bipartisan legislation (Assembly Bill 452) to end California’s arbitrary civil statute of limitations for minors who have experienced sexual abuse. The bill — introduced jointly with Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) — explicitly governs future cases of sexual assault, giving institutions time to prevent future cases of child sexual assault.
Reactions to the film, Majors says, is mostly people coming out of the theater being stunned but also wanting to learn more. Regardless of its criticism, the film has successfully garnered more attention and awareness to an otherwise unsightly and unwanted rampant crime.
You can learn more about Resilient Souls at resilientsouls.org.
Feature Image taken from ‘Sound of Freedom’ trailer.