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Sound of Freedom writer-director Alejandro Monteverde has largely stayed out of the public eye as his child trafficking thriller has become the biggest sleeper hit of 2023 and generated some controversy along the way.
In a number of high-profile stories published Monday, however, Monteverde is breaking his silence — and strongly condemning the staunch political division and alleged QAnon ties that have followed the movie en route to a staggering $172 million at the box office. (The Angel Studios release is currently the 10th highest-grossing movie of 2023 domestically.)
"If there's one issue that can unite everyone, it's ending child trafficking," Monteverde and co-writer Rod Barr declared in a first-person editorial in The Hollywood Reporter. "Child trafficking is not a conservative or a liberal issue. It is a fundamental human rights issue, one that strikes at our very core as human beings."
In an interview with Variety, the 46-year-old Mexican-born Monteverde said he began writing the movie, which follows ex-U.S. government agent Tim Ballard (Jim Caviezel) on a mission to rescue children from a sex trafficking network in South America, in 2015. That was two years before the launch of QAnon, the controversial far-right political movement that claims Satan-worshipping global elites run the world and are involved in a global child trafficking ring to harvest their blood for a chemical called adrenochrome.
Yet because of the film's plot as well as various comments and appearances made by its conservative star Caviezel (The Passion of the Christ) and the real-life agent-turned-activist he plays, Tim Ballard, Sound of Freedom has been dragged as a "QAnon-tinged" thriller (or worse) by outlets like Rolling Stone.
"The movie has been unjustly associated with certain extreme conspiracy theories. We wrote the movie in 2015 and shot it in 2018, well before anyone involved had ever heard of such theories," Monteverde and Ballard wrote in The Hollywood Reporter. "We took our inspiration from actual events, many of which were reported by major media outlets at the time."
The film became an even higher profile culture-clash lightning rod when former President Donald Trump hosted a private screening of the film at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club in July.
"Liberal media outlets like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and the Hollywood Reporter have refused to review the film," Trump said in a statement announcing the screening. "While publications like Rolling Stone, Washington Post, CNN and the Guardian have trashed the film and mocked the millions of moviegoers who purchased tickets to screenings."
Both Caviezel and Ballard attended Trump's screening, but Monteverde did not. "There's people that are too close to the film that are in politics," the director tells Variety. "So it’s like, I love you, but I have to keep my distance."
The film has also been widely described as a Christian or "faith-based film," another label Monteverde rejects.
"I believe labels such as 'faith-based' exclude people, and my intention as a filmmaker is never to exclude but to include everyone, all audiences," he told Variety. "We made Sound of Freedom for people of faith, people without faith and everyone in between."
Made for a reported budget of only $14.5 million, Sound of Freedom has already earned more than 12 times that in the U.S., with an international rollout to come. Though none of that profit will be coming to its director. "Nobody, no one, thought that this movie was going to make the box office it's making," Monteverde told the Los Angeles Times. "It’s a complete surprise, including to myself. I thought this movie was never going to see the light of day. So I ended up giving away my points. I'm not going to make $1."
Asked about the negative press the film has received, Monteverde says it's made him sick.
"I was like, 'This is all wrong. That's not true,'" he said. "It was heartbreaking when I saw all this polemic and all this controversy going on. My instinct was to run. I want to hide. I don't want to give any more interviews… Look, when you hire people, what they do on the free time, I can't control. I was a director. I wrote the screenplay. I hired the actor I thought was the best for this film. The subject matter was very personal to him. [Caviezel] adopted three children from China. When we met and discussed the project, he broke down in tears. And I was like, 'Wow, this guy's gonna be willing to die on the set.' And that’s what you want, you know? You want somebody who works for you. And he dove in."
The film took another hit in the media when Newsweek reported on Aug. 4 that one of its funders, Fabian Marta, was arrested for child kidnapping. (Monteverde did not address the arrest in his media rounds with Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.)
Monteverde did point to another article from Newsweek, however, which — contrary to popular media narrative — says the film is registering with both Republican and Democratic viewers.
"We made Sound of Freedom in a sincere effort to unite people around a fundamental human rights issue," Monteverde and Barr wrote in The Hollywood Reporter. "No single interest group owns the issue of trafficking. We all own it, because it is happening in the world we all share."