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Culture War Roundup for the week of July 10, 2023

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Timothy Ballard is a former DHS agent who, in 2013, left his role fighting criminal child exploitation and founded Operation Underground Railroad, or OUR. It's a parapolice organization which operates internationally, infiltrating child trafficking rings, identifying ring leaders, working with local law enforcement to arrest the leaders, and providing support to the victims after they are rescued. [1] I have not delved deeply into the history or workings of the group, so their actual effectiveness is a mystery to me, but they boast some impressive sounding results; a blog post from yesterday claims 51 survivors of an international sex ring saved and 22 suspects apprehended in "a joint effort by the Hellenic Police, the Spanish National Police, INTERPOL, O.U.R., A21, and Homeland Security Investigations." [2] It sounds very impressive, uplifting, and even badass. It's the kind of thing Hollywood would love to make a movie about - and they did.

In 2015, director Alejandro Monteverde and a production company approached Ballard to make a movie documenting his exploits. Ballard had been approached many times before by for movie deals but had turned them all down. This time, Monteverde's work was able to impress Ballard (and his wife) enough to convince him to sign on to a movie deal. Ballard was extensively interviewed, a script was written, and filming started in the summer of 2018. Interestingly, Ballard requested that actor Jim Caviezel portray him - Caviezel notably portrayed Jesus (yes that one) in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, though Ballard cited Caviezel's performance in The Count of Monte Cristo as the reason for his request. The film was completed that year and Fox was signed on to distribute the film under the name The Sound of Freedom. [3]

Fox was not around long enough to complete the deal. They were acquired by Disney, who shelved the movie (Disney later claimed they had no knowledge of the movie, which is plausible given the enormity of both Disney and the former Fox). It sat in limbo until earlier this year, when the filmmakers bought back the rights to the movie and approached Angel Studios for distribution. Angel Studios is an interesting company; they are entirely supported by equity crowdfunding, in which small investors provide funding in exchange for securities. As the name might suggest they are heavily Christian focused, with one of their largest previous projects being The Chosen, a dramatic television retelling of the life of Jesus Christ. They implement their crowdfunding model by presenting their investors with several options for new projects and ask them to vote for which ones they would like to see. Reportedly, The Sound of Freedom reached a critical threshold of votes within days, the release was greenlit, and the movie hit theaters on July 4, 2023. It instantly became a hit, and a target for hits.

If you have heard about this movie before now, it was probably in the context of controversy. Lefty media outlets have been dogpiling it, with Rolling Stone calling it "a Superhero Movie for Dads With Brainworms"[5] and a CBC Radio columnist saying it was "a dog whistle for xenophobic Pro-Trump, Pro-Life types".[6] Criticism of the movie itself is weak, with the arguments boiling down to "it's not realistic" and "the plot doesn't always make sense", things that could be leveled at any summer blockbuster. External to the film, they criticize Caviezel and his penchant for QAnon conspiracy theories, but never mention the Mexican native director, whose father and brother were kidnapped and killed by a cartel.[7] What many have been focusing on is these outlets' attempts to seemingly pull the rug out from under the whole movie by downplaying child trafficking as a real world issue, trotting out 'experts' to point out how the depiction is 'dangerous' because it sets 'unrealistic expectations' and generally setting the tone that trafficking isn't really a thing people should be worried about.

This has set them up for the obvious counter from the Right: why are you so mad about a movie where a guy saves children? Child trafficking is bad... right? These commenters point out how outlets like Rolling Stone defended Cuties (the infamous Netflix movie about pubescent girls dancing in modern sexually charged style) and didn't seem to have a problem with Taken, the 2008 movie with an obviously exaggerated human trafficking plot. But that was a decade and a half ago, and we know why this is happening now: it's culture war, pure and simple. While Righties are accusing the Lefties of covering up for their corrupt pedo elites, I theorized this might be legacy media feeling threatened by upstart conservative alternatives, but after researching I don't think there's much more to this than "Red Tribe likes this, so it must be bad". Or perhaps I am not blackpilled enough yet to believe that the slope is so slippery that pedophiles are already being introduced into the pantheon of Letter People.

Other titbits I want to mention:

  • Ticket buyers are "predominately female", and a third of the audience is Hispanic.
  • The movie's conception predates QAnon, and production was around when QAnon was starting but not yet known to the mainstream.
  • The movie has a CinemaScore of A+ (the highest) and is the only movie currently in theaters with that rating. The score is measured by polling theater atendees as they leave the screening and is often used by the industry to gauge audience reaction.

[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]

I purposely kept my focus limited for this piece but I would be curious to know more about OUR. The critical articles throw out some accusations of questionable tactics and effectiveness, but I don't recall anything claiming it's a scam. The credible thing to do, if you wanted to undermine the film, would be to publish a scathing expose of OUR, but that would take effort.