Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Spotlight in the Dark

“I am here because I care. We are going to tell this story and tell it right.”

Those are the words Spotlight investigative reporter Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) uses to convince an abuse survivor to share his story. That also seems to be the philosophy of the principals involved in the stellar production of “Spotlight.”

From the time the actors (including Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, and Stanley Tucci) read the smart, layered script they knew that it was a special project. They were grateful to be working with colleagues they admired on such an important film, and they did their best to do it justice.

Spotlight” is the true story of how a team of investigative reporters from the Spotlight division of the Boston Globe uncovered a massive scandal of child molestation within the Catholic Archdiocese.

It is a rare picture that moves you without manipulating you with shocking, exploitative images. Writer/director Tom McCarthy and writer Josh Singer tell this story and tell it right – by treating the sensitive material with respect.

The real-life journalists (Editor Walter "Robby" Robinson, and reporters Michael Rezendes, Matt Carroll, and Sacha Pfeiffer) praised the filmmakers for their accurate portrayal of what investigative reporters do and for highlighting why their work is so important. Their Spotlight article gave a voice to the survivors who couldn’t speak up for themselves, and let them know that they weren’t the only victims.

Keeping that dirty secret was literally killing the victims. In the movie, a reporter notices track lines on a survivor’s arm. The survivor’s lawyer explains that he is one of the lucky ones because he is still alive. What made the movie so moving was how the survivors are portrayed as courageous for speaking out. They paid a huge personal price by opening those old wounds. But they did it to save children.

One survivor explained how he fell prey to the priest. “When you’re a poor kid from a poor family, and a priest pays attention to you, it’s a big deal. How do you say no to God?” The violation goes beyond just molestation. It is the breaking of faith that is so devastating - that your neighborhood priest, who represents God, took advantage of you.

But the reporters dug up a bigger story – the church superiors covering it up. The investigation is riveting. The dedicated reporters sift through layer after layer of the cover-ups throughout the institution: the Catholic Dioceses, the neighborhood parishes, and even the families themselves. The bishops had pressured the families not to speak of it, using the excuse that it was just this one case and you don’t want to hurt the church. The more the reporters dug, the more institutions they found that buried the crimes.

The tension rises as the reporters feel the powerful grip of the Catholic Church in Boston - while the threat of continuing abuse starts to hit home. (One of the pedophile priests has been relocated to a reporter’s neighborhood.)

The film reminds us why investigative reporting is so vital in a democratic society: It is crucial that the press be a watchdog to keep those in power in line, to hold powerful institutions and people accountable (including our government). The more power they have, the more temptation there is to abuse it.

“Spotlight” is the kind of movie that really gets you thinking. So I joined a couple of women in the lobby for a post-movie discussion. We pondered how devastating it must have been for faithful Catholics when this story broke – since they find strength in their religion and their church community. It is so troubling that this institution, whose mission is to aid children in need, would abuse that trust and abuse it hundreds of times - for three decades! “The problem isn’t with God, but the institution,” chimed in one of the women. “The institution is run by men and men are flawed.” The other woman remembered when the story came out. Her father, a devout Catholic, said he didn’t want to hear about it. He didn’t want it to shatter his faith in God or become disillusioned with the church. That attitude certainly played into the systemic problem. Everyone turned a blind eye. Everyone buried the story.  “If it takes a whole village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.” That is why the work of investigative reporters is so important and must be upheld.

We are all in the dark, until we see the light. Until someone shines a “Spotlight” on it.

Movie blessings,
Jana Segal-Stormont

Oscar News: "Spotlight" WON Best Screenplay (Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer), and BEST PICTURE! 

"Spotlight" was also nominated for Best Director (Tom McCarthy), Best Editing, Best Supporting Actor (Mark Ruffalo) and Best Supporting Actress (Rachel McAdams).

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