CLAIM: Mel Gibson is making a multi-part documentary on child sex trafficking
AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The actor’s publicist says he isn’t making any documentary about child sex trafficking. The founder of a Utah anti-trafficking nonprofit has previously suggested the actor provided initial support for a documentary in development, but he confirmed to The Associated Press that Gibson is not involved in making the film.
THE FACTS: Social media users are lauding Gibson for helping combat child sex trafficking with claims that he is making a documentary exposing the illicit industry.
Many are sharing posts purporting to deliver the scoop.
“BREAKING: Mel Gibson is allegedly making a 4-part docu-series on the $34 billion global child sex trafficking market involving countries like Ukraine,” reads one widely shared post on Twitter.
“Jeffery Epstein is the tip of the iceberg,” wrote another Twitter user who shared the claim, referencing the disgraced financier who committed suicide in a Manhattan jail while facing federal sex trafficking charges. “IT’S TIME TO EXPOSE THE TRUTH!”
But a publicist for the former A-List actor, who faced criticism following antisemitic and racist tirades in the 2000s, denied Gibson is making any such film.
“He is not making any documentary,” Alan Nierob, Gibson’s longtime publicist, wrote in an email to The Associated Press on Wednesday.
The claim appears to stem from comments made earlier this year by the founder of an anti-child sex trafficking nonprofit that has been developing various film projects, including a documentary.
Tim Ballard, founder of Operation Underground Railroad, has said Gibson sought the organization’s help in getting about a dozen orphans out of Ukraine during the Russian invasion last year.
At a January appearance at the conservative Utah Eagle Forum in Salt Lake City, the former Department of Homeland Security agent said he had known Gibson because the actor helped edit “The Sound of Freedom,” a movie about Ballard and his organization that’s slated to be released this summer.
The movie, incidentally, stars James Caviezel, an actor who played Jesus in “The Passion of the Christ,” the 2004 Bible epic that Gibson produced, directed and co-wrote.
Ballard said in the January remarks that he asked Gibson for money to film the Ukrainian rescue effort, and the actor agreed.
“He said ‘No problem,’ and he helped get us started and filming,” Ballard said. “Four months later, what I thought was maybe going to be a documentary about Ukraine ends up being a four-part docu-series that’s almost done.”
Nierob declined to comment on Ballard’s remarks or elaborate on Gibson’s ties to the anti-trafficking nonprofit, but he stressed the actor is “not financing a multi-part documentary of any kind.”
“No knowledge of charity but he did not finance any documentary,” Nierob wrote in a message, referring to Operation Underground Railroad.
The Utah-based organization is among a number that’s found success in recent years raising money off conspiracy theories that arose out of QAnon, the AP has reported.
The Davis County Attorney’s Office in Utah also investigated allegations that the group was exaggerating its role in law enforcement arrests involving child predators, but closed its probe last month without filing any charges.
Ballard, in an emailed statement after this story was published, said he stood by “every word” in the January video in which he described Gibson’s role in helping rescue children at risk of being trafficked in war-torn Ukraine.
But he also acknowledged the actor isn’t involved in making the forthcoming documentary, which he said is being produced by Nick Nanton, of DNA Films, and a number of others serving as executive producers.
“Mel deserves all the credit for taking the initiative to further the critical work that we do,” Ballard wrote. “I am personally grateful for his support as we worked on this documentary, however reports this four-part series is actually being produced by Mr. Gibson are not accurate.”
This story has been updated to include a statement from Operation Underground Railroad.
This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.