The anti-human trafficking film “Sound of Freedom” has raked in more than $41 million since opening on July Fourth.
Variety has praised the movie, saying it “makes the desire to ‘take action’ seem more than an action-movie gesture.” And World magazine called the movie a “wake-up call, reminding Americans of the evil that’s perpetrated both inside and outside our borders.” But not all reviews have been positive.
The Guardian of London wrote a review of the film titled “Sound of Freedom: the QAnon-adjacent thriller seducing America.” And the website Jezebel called the movie “an Anti-Child Trafficking Fantasy Fit for QAnon.” QAnon is a conspiracy theory involving the belief that a group of Satan-worshiping pedophiles controls aspects of the “deep state government.”
Asked why he thinks some left-leaning media outlets have critiqued the film in this way, Angel Studios CEO Neal Harmon says the film is not political.
“Everyone who’s seen this film knows that it has nothing to do with politics or conspiracy, and that it’s just a great, true story, well-told,” Harmon says, adding that “if you’re on the fence about it, you want to see for yourself, you can pick up a free ticket, and you can find out for yourself what this phenomenon is about.”
Angel Studios, the streaming platform known for the multiseason series about the life of Christ, “The Chosen,” is distributing “Sound of Freedom.”
Harmon joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss the success “Sound of Freedom” has experienced at the box office and to address the praise and criticism of the movie. Harmon also explains how to see the movie for free while it is still in theaters.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:
Virginia Allen: It is my pleasure today to be joined by Angel Studios’ CEO, Neal Harmon. Thank you so much for being with us.
Neal Harmon: Thank you for having me.
Allen: Well, the movie “Sound of Freedom,” it’s in theaters now, and this movie, it’s been so exciting to watch the journey, watch the release of this film. It sheds light specifically on the issue of child sex trafficking, and it tells the story of a man named Tim Ballard, who now runs an organization called Operation Underground Railroad that specifically frees children from sex trafficking.
And this film, it’s gotten a lot of attention, and it’s gotten a lot of attention for good reason. So it opened on July Fourth. Already this movie has grossed more than $41 million, and if you look at the reviews, the ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, the audience approval rating is 99%. Was this the response that you-all expected to receive from this film?
Harmon: We expected that when we chose the day July Fourth to launch this film that the Angel community would get behind the film. We believed this because Angel is powered by our community. It’s the Angel Guild who makes the decisions on what is published on Angel.
And so when we had the opportunity to look at “Sound of Freedom,” we showed it to the Angel Guild and got their feedback. And the scores on this show were so high that we knew that the community would get behind this film. And we announced the release date and set a very ambitious goal to have 2 million people in the seats opening week of “Sound of Freedom” to represent the 2 million children who will be trafficked this year. And we met that goal on Friday of last week.
We just are so excited at what the Angel Guild and the Angel community have accomplished because their initial push and their initial support, there were $10 million in presale tickets before we opened the film. And then on July Fourth, we became the No. 1 film in America that day. That support sent a message to the world that demanded a conversation and that conversation has ensued.
What we didn’t expect is how big and how central that conversation has become and what kind of twists and turns that conversation would take. So I would say we weren’t surprised that the Angel community showed up. We were hopeful that it would become a big conversation in the world. I think we’re shocked and stunned at how big the conversation has grown and become so fast.
Allen: It is a big conversation and it’s been really exciting to watch that conversation to begin to take place because it’s such a critical one that needs to be happening.
Now, I do want to give you an opportunity to respond to some of the criticism that the film has received. Amid the glowing reviews and the positive feedback, there’s been a handful of news outlets that have come out with some critical reviews, including The Guardian. They wrote a review of the film titled “Sound of Freedom, the QAnon-adjacent thriller seducing America.” The website Jezebel had a headline reading, “‘Sound of Freedom’ Is an Anti-Child Trafficking Fantasy Fit for QAnon.”
Why do you think the film is receiving this criticism?
Harmon: Everyone who’s seen this film knows that it has nothing to do with politics or conspiracy and that it’s just a great, true story, well told. And the nice thing about “Sound of Freedom” and all the people who are paying it forward so other people can watch this for free is, if you’re on the fence about it, you want to see for yourself, you can pick up a free ticket and you can find out for yourself what this phenomenon is about.
Allen: At Angel Studios, of course, you-all are so well known for the production of “The Chosen” and the release of “The Chosen,” and there was so much fascination over the crowdfund model that you-all did with “The Chosen” streaming series. And it’s been a little bit of a similar format with “Sound of Freedom,” where you’re allowing people to essentially pay for strangers to see the film. How is that working?
Harmon: It’s working so well. Steve Jobs once said that “the storyteller is the most powerful person in the world because the storyteller sets the values and the vision for the generation which is to come.” I think people sense this on a deep level, and the reason that we participate in stories, the reason we go to the movie theaters on its most fundamental level is we want a better life for ourselves and for our children.
And so pay it forward gives people the chance to be part of it. They get the chance to actually put their treasure and their voice behind something that they believe in, something that they want to see different for their children, their grandchildren. And so we’ve really been able to capture that with the pay it forward technology and enable the community to become part of this.
Allen: Regarding those who are choosing to criticize the film, how would you respond to the suggestion that the story portrayed in the film didn’t actually happen or that Tim Ballard saving kids somehow represents more of a stunt than actual heroism?
Harmon: Go to angel.com/blog and there’s a whole entire piece on separating fact from fiction, storytelling … We’re very, very transparent on the true components of this story and which parts of it were part of the movie-making process or to get across the narrative in a succinct format. So I would just encourage people to learn and to celebrate more awareness coming to this issue.
Nobody will refute the government’s numbers. I mean, the actual numbers are somewhere between 5 and 6 million trafficked children, and about a third of those are sex trafficking. And those are published sources. They don’t come from us, they don’t come from the film. This is a reality for a lot of children, that is a dark, dark reality.
And a story that brings hope, a story that gives people the inspiration to do something about it, to donate to causes, to get involved themselves, to be more careful with their own children, to educate themselves on what to look for, to identify trafficking, all of these things will help society have the tools that they need to deal with this problem and to have the hope that they need to change it.
So we’re extremely transparent about the story. Learn as much as you want about that, but spend as much time as you can on actually addressing the issue as well.
Allen: I saw a post shared by the singer-songwriter Jewel and she said, “You know what? This is not a political issue,” and really challenged folks to remind themselves of that, that this isn’t Left, this isn’t Right. This is an issue that every American, that every human should be aware of.
Have you-all seen that, just various folks, whether it be in Hollywood or the music industry, but those with platforms really speaking out and bringing that reminder about the film, that this actually isn’t political?
Harmon: Again, everyone who’s actually attended the film is describing it as sellout crowds, discussions afterward, standing ovations. And this is irrespective of whether it’s a blue or red state, of whether it’s a urban or a country environment. This is uniting people across all walks of life around this issue. Because I think this is one issue—it’s so wonderful to have a cause that we can unite behind and that doesn’t have to descend into arguing.
And now that’s not to say that people can’t have a debate about it, and we welcome the debate, that’s what America’s about. But I think that people see through the debate, that what’s really happening is very uniting and that what’s really happening is that people are showing up to the theater and they’re coming away changed and ready to do something.
Allen: I want to talk in just a moment about what that something is that folks can do. But first I’d love to hear a little bit of the story of the process of getting “Sound of Freedom” to the big screen. This was a journey, and the film was actually done five years ago, but there were some major hurdles and roadblocks to get this into theaters. What happened? Why did it take five years?
Harmon: Well, the people to talk to about that that would be best able to speak to it would be Eduardo Verástegui, Alejandro Monteverde, Tim Ballard. They’ve been in the trenches on this fight to get this message to the screen for eight years.
The rights, we learned, became available in March of this year, and we’ve been on our own journey over the last decade to become a company and to have a community that would be able to launch this film on this kind of scale. So that in and of itself is an important story.
But for us, we got the film in March. We showed it to the Angel Guild, and 24 hours later they scored it off the charts. We signed a deal within five or six days, and then we set a release date for July Fourth. And it has been, like, everyone, our phones are ringing off the hook and people are congratulating us and excited for what’s happening.
And I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a marathon or triathlon where—Jeffrey, our co-founder at Angel Studios, he was sharing this analogy this morning, but he said, when you see a triathlon and when they end the race and everyone’s trying to congratulate them, they just fall flat on their face because they’re so exhausted.
And it is, that’s the way everyone feels here at Angel Studios, is that we’ve just run this marathon, trying to get this out from March. And we didn’t expect to have this in our schedule, but it was so important to do it when we did. We just felt that God’s hand was definitely in it and we couldn’t be more grateful for the results. And we’re very tired.
Allen: I bet. Well, and it takes courage to choose to, “We’re going to release during a pretty decent blockbuster season, July and July Fourth.” And “Sound of Freedom” had actually performed higher than the new “Indiana Jones” movie over that July Fourth holiday. I mean, that had to just feel pretty incredible for you-all to realize, “OK, wow, we took a risk here, saying we’re going to release on July Fourth, and this actually worked out.”
Harmon: And if this isn’t a win, I mean, this wouldn’t be a win for Disney or Angel Studios, this is a win for these children, and we feel like it’s their win and it’s God’s message to the world about these children. And we couldn’t be more grateful to be part of it, to use our skills and abilities and the circumstances to make it so that message could get started, to help start that spark.
Honestly, that spark started with the two children that Tim Ballard rescued and the millions that they represent. And then with Alejandro and Eduardo, who decided to use their film talents to get this out there. And then we used the Angel community and asked them for their help and their support and passed the baton onto them and then they passed it onto the world, and it’s working.
Allen: I want to read something that Variety wrote in their review of “Sound of Freedom.” They say, “It’s not a glorified Rambo movie or a Netflix thriller, pretending to be serious. When the deliverance you’ve been seeking arrives, it feels earned. In a conventional pulp way, we’ve glimpsed the heart of darkness. We’ve seen something about our world that makes the desire to take action seem more than an action movie gesture.”
What does that look like for viewers who see this movie to do just that, to take action?
Harmon: My belief is that if a viewer, if anyone out there who watches this movie will just pause and look inside their heart, if they’re a believer, if they’ll pray and just take a moment, that the inspiration will come to them for their own sphere of influence on how they can address this.
It could be a parent who does a better job of looking out for their children, what they’re doing on their video games, who they’re interacting with, to keep them safer. It could be a teenage boy who decides the path that pornographic imagery would take him on is not worth it, that this kind of a path is extremely destructive to the brain and to the mind.
And that’s how people end up in that dark of a spot. Like Tim Ballard has said to me, that every single pedophile or murderer that he’s ever interrogated, or any case that he’s looked at, they’ve shared one thing in common and it’s an addiction to pornography.
It could be that someone says, “I want to get involved in aftercare and I want to help some of these children heal.” I had a friend, just came from Florida and visited me, and she asked about that. And she feels, because of experiences she had when she was young, she feels like that’s her calling, that she knows how to help children heal from sexual abuse.
And that inspiration’s going to come to each of us, if we’ll take the time to think about it, look in our hearts, and then write down whatever we feel inspired to do.
Allen: For you, as someone in the film industry, what does the success of “Sound of Freedom” mean for the creation of more content like this, of really value-based content?
Harmon: We just think this is a monumental win for the audience. This film was stuck, couldn’t get out, and the audience truly has the ultimate power and ultimate say. And I think that “Sound of Freedom” gives people hope that they can actually have an impact on culture and change culture for the better.
And so I think this is going to inspire a lot of indie filmmaking to get good messages out there. It’s going to inspire a lot of bravery. It’s going to inspire investment. It’s going to inspire better filmmakers to make the leap from the traditional system that has the traditional gatekeepers, and they’ll make the leap into doing something more ambitious, riskier, but also far more rewarding. So I think that this is just going to encourage a flourishing of independent filmmaking.
Allen: The film “Sound of Freedom,” it’s in theaters now. Do we know when it’s landing on Angel Studios’ streaming services?
Harmon: That date hasn’t been released yet.
Allen: OK. Well, we will wait in anticipation for that, but right now, everyone just needs to go see it in theaters. And if folks want to be able to buy tickets for friends, for strangers, how do they do that?
Harmon: Go to angel.com/freedom and you can pay it forward. You can buy your own tickets, you can claim a free ticket, you can share available free tickets with others, and we’d love to have you help.
Allen: Great. Angel Studios CEO Neal Harmon. Thank you so much for your time, Neal. We really appreciate you being with us.
Harmon: Thank you for having me on.
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