Martin Sheen Backs U.S. Labor Trafficking Feature Documentary ‘To Be Free’: “It’s Happening Under Our Eyes”

Martin Sheen Backs U.S. Labor Trafficking Feature Documentary ‘To Be Free’: “It’s Happening Under Our Eyes”

Hollywood actor and longtime political activist Martin Sheen is set to become the face of the U.S. anti-labor trafficking movement.

Sheen is executive producing the feature documentary To Be Free, which explores the issues and challenges of tackling labor trafficking in the U.S., whether it’s people forced via fraud or coercion to do unpaid work in restaurants, farm fields, construction sites or nail salons.

“People need to understand this is so prevalent and it’s happening under our eyes in the United States and in other countries in the West,” Sheen told The Hollywood Reporter as he jumps aboard director Benjamin Ryan Nathan’s groundbreaking film about a largely hidden crisis of human trafficking impacting virtually every American town and every sector of the economy.

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Director Nathan of All of Us Films adds his film has a call to action to close government and legal hurdles to ending this form of modern-day slavery.

“We do a good job in this country of talking about sex trafficking. We do a very good job of talking about labor abuses overseas, whether that sweatshops or slave labor. What we don’t do is focus on labor trafficking here at home. There’s a lot of corporations benefiting from the fact that we have this type of labor here and there are many government and legal loopholes that allow this to continue,” Nathan tells THR.

But rather than focus on the cruel labor traffickers, To Be Free uses animation and live-action dramatizations, the inspirational testimony of survivors and expert talking heads to reveal the breadth and depth of the modern slavery problem in the U.S. ahead of eyeing meaningful social change.

“These are real people who had real experiences,” Nathan adds about shedding light on survivors like Harold D’Souza, who in 2003 left his hometown in India along with his family to take what he expected as a high-paying factory job in the U.S., only to be forced by a trafficker to work 16-hour days without pay in a restaurant in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Only after overcoming his fear and going to the police did D’Souza win his freedom, become an American citizen, a co-founder of Eyes Open International, a nonprofit combating human trafficking, and a former member of the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking.

Sheen, who played fictional Democratic president Josiah Bartlet on The West Wing and has long campaigned against nuclear proliferation and war and for unions, says tackling the issue of labor trafficking through the stories of people who have been abused and trafficked is just another way he has worked to secure a voice for the voiceless and justice for marginalized people.

“You can’t separate one issue from another. They’re all part of a vast area of abuse on vulnerable human beings, whether it’s homelessness or drug addiction or immigrants seeking a safe port,” he tells THR.

“I’ve tried to focus wherever there were people who were abused, or there was a sense of abuse, someone without a voice, that could not get attention to their plight or the criminality that they were exposed to. They all have equal importance as long as a human being is being denied their rights,” Sheen adds.

To Be Free, which is targeting a late 2024 release, has also partnered with 3Strands Global Foundation, a nonprofit working to combat human trafficking, to help raise crowdfunding dollars to complete production of the feature documentary.

Continuing work on To Be Free with its unflinching look at labor trafficking coincides with Angel Studios’ Sound of Freedom — where Jim Caviezel plays a former Department of Homeland Security agent on his own quest to bring child traffickers to justice — becoming a box office hit.