Alejandro Monteverde’s film has become a hotbed of controversy, with recent developments adding fuel to the fire. Despite its massive financial success at the domestic box office, raking in over $155 million since its release on July 3, the movie is now marred by both a shocking arrest and the unexpected resignation of its real-life inspiration.
Tim Ballard, the subject of the film and formerly associated with Operation Underground Railroad (OUR), left the anti-trafficking organization following an internal investigation into allegations made against him by multiple employees. OUR does not dispute the claims, adding a layer of uncertainty to Ballard’s departure. The details surrounding this intriguing development have yet to emerge.
Adding to the mounting concerns, Fabian Marta, who boasted about his involvement in funding the film after Disney decided not to release it, was recently arrested. Charged with child kidnapping, a felony, Marta’s shocking arrest occurred on July 23. According to Missouri Revisor of Statutes, child kidnapping involves the unauthorized removal or confinement of a child under the age of fourteen without the consent of their parents or guardian. Marta’s alleged association with “sugar daddy/baby” parties and claims of aiding the film’s production surfaced on his social media, raising eyebrows and amplifying the ongoing discussion around the movie’s real-life connections.
This whirlwind of events comes as no surprise to those familiar with the film’s controversial narrative. Blatantly shaping a glossy hero story, it portrays Ballard effortlessly navigating dangerous situations in Colombia, rescuing trafficked children with apparent ease and seeking personal glory. However, the reality is far more intricate and problematic than what is depicted on the screen.
OUR has faced severe criticism for Ballard’s apparent performance for the cameras, allegations that the organization has failed to provide adequate aftercare for survivors, oversimplification of the complexities surrounding sex work and trafficking, and a questionable disregard for the underlying structural issues that perpetuate the trafficking industry. The film itself even makes bold claims that demand rigorous fact-checking, such as the assertion that human trafficking is a $150 billion business.
Meg Conley’s poignant account in her 2021 publication sheds light on her experience accompanying Ballard and his former organization on a “jump” mission in the Dominican Republic. Conley reveals the perilous circumstances she faced, the apparent lack of professionalism during the mission, and, most tragically, what happened to the children who were supposedly rescued in front of OUR’s cameras. Clearly, there’s more to this story than the tidy narrative presented onscreen.
As the details surrounding Ballard’s alleged resignation from OUR remain elusive, it becomes increasingly evident that true heroes seldom wear capes. Furthermore, those who proclaim themselves as heroes are often far from it. The controversies surrounding Alejandro Monteverde’s film continue to unravel, shining a light on the complexities and questionable practices that exist within the real-life fight against human trafficking.