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Pop CultureJuly 27, 2023

What is Sound of Freedom and why is it clogging up my social media?


Seemingly every Facebook post about movies this month is filled with comments asking for a New Zealand release date for a film many of us have never even heard of. Stewart Sowman-Lund asks: why?

So what’s this movie about?

Sound of Freedom is a 2023 action film based on the true story of how former US government agent Tim Ballard set out on a mission to rescue sex trafficked children in Colombia. It’s directed and co-written by Alejandro Monteverde, with a budget of $14.5 million USD. It stars Jim Caviezel, perhaps best known for his leading role as Jesus in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. All of that’s according to the Wikipedia page, because Sound of Freedom hasn’t been released in New Zealand yet. And according to local film website Flicks, it doesn’t have a tentative cinema or streaming release date either. 

But that hasn’t stopped people online calling for it to be screened in local cinemas as soon as possible. I first stumbled upon the call to arms after watching a trailer for the Barbie movie shared to the Event Cinemas Facebook page. The lone comment below read: “Where is Sound of Freedom?” Then I noticed that pretty much every Event Cinemas post on Facebook had similar comments, often in caps or with increasingly erratic forms of punctuation. 

What are they saying?

Here’s one example. 

And another. 

Here’s someone acknowledging that while the new Mission Impossible does look pretty cool, it’s certainly no Sound of Freedom.

It extends beyond just Event Cinemas posts, too. This is from the comments section on a Newstalk ZB post about the box office success of Barbie. 

There are dozens more examples from local and international news and entertainment sources. For a while, it felt like every Facebook comment was about this film.

Maybe that’s just Facebook?

It’s not. On Twitter (now called “X”) a search for “Sound of Freedom NZ” returned a number of tweets from disgruntled, cinema-hungry New Zealanders wanting to watch the film. “Why is the media refusing to discuss the top grossing film, The Sound of Freedom,” one person asked (Barbie and Oppenheimer were the top grossing films in the US last week, though Sound of Freedom did come in third above the new Mission Impossible). In response to a tweet by 1News broadcaster Miriama Kamo about the resignation of cabinet minister Kiri Allan, one person questioned: “Miriam, as a NZ media celeb would like you all to watch when you can the child sex trafficking movie Sound of Freedom. Very disturbing. Isn’t that right Miriam? [sic]” 

Several tweets also claim, without any apparent evidence, that the film has been banned on our shores. There’s even a proposed boycott of local cinemas until Sound of Freedom is released. And a petition has been launched: “Show Sound of Freedom in New Zealand cinemas”. At the time of writing it has over 10,000 signatures. 

Who are all of these mega film fans?

Well, a lot of the film’s support seems to be from fringe communities here and around the world. Many of the accounts on Twitter asking for a local release date have names like “Maga Mike” or “Ultra Maga”. A former candidate for Matt King’s conspiracy-adjacent political movement, Democracy NZ, suggested in a since-deleted tweet that she’d be submitting an Official Information Act request to “clarify whether [Sound of Freedom] is banned or not” and “if they are going to make it available to the public as it is of high public importance”.

Jim Caviezel, right, as Tim Ballard in Sound of Freedom

Why do these fringe communities care so much about this movie?

Sound of Freedom appears to be a “solid independent action film” (Vanity Fair) with a limited marketing campaign that has received decent reviews from overseas media (71% on Rotten Tomatoes isn’t bad). The film carries a religious theme (it’s being distributed by a company called Angel Studios) which appeals to an often underserved faith-based audience. 

But fringe appeal cannot be understated. Sound of Freedom has been promoted by the likes of Elon Musk and Ben Shapiro, while Donald Trump recently hosted a special screening as well. Then there are the rumoured, though unofficial, links to the QAnon conspiracy movement. That’s the theory that ballooned out of “Pizzagate”, and alleges that a cabal of child sex offenders are operating a trafficking ring and conspiring against Donald Trump. While there is no mention of QAnon in Sound of Freedom, and the links have been disputed, the film is said to have been embraced by overseas conspiracy theorists due to its subject matter. 

So it’s a conspiracy movie?

This report from The Guardian labels Sound of Freedom as “QAnon-adjacent”, noting the film’s lead actor Jim Cavaziel has publicly subscribed to some aspects of the QAnon conspiracy. Appearing on a panel with other noted conspiracy theorists, including one who worked to overturn the 2020 US election, Cavaziel promoted the QAnon-linked claim that children were being “adrenochromed” – the baseless suggestion that Hollywood elite are harvesting the blood of young people. This week, Trump also shared a QAnon post to his social media after recently directing his followers to Sound of Freedom: “This is a very important film and very important movie and it’s a very important documentary all wrapped up in one. It’s really about an issue that has to be discussed,” the former president said.

Do the filmmakers know about or want this association?

Producers of the film haven’t directly responded to the alleged links to QAnon. However, an executive of the film’s distributor told the Washington Post that anyone who believes Sound of Freedom promotes conspiracies hasn’t actually watched the film. And the real life Tim Ballard, on whom the film is based, rejected reports connecting the two. “They make zero connection to the actual story,” he said of people pushing the claim. “It’s very difficult to make that connection when it’s actually based on a true story.” 

Confusingly, however, Ballard himself has been criticised for echoing certain aspects of QAnon conspiracy. He told Jordan Peterson – yes, that Jordan Peterson – that he had raided a West African “baby factory” where children are sold for organ harvesting and “Satanic ritual abuse”. Insider said these comments were in line with myths “pushed by the QAnon movement”.

And so the question over what Sound of Freedom does or doesn’t represent remains – as does the stream of Facebook comments asking when it will be given a New Zealand release. 

Keep going!