Spotlight, which tells the story of the four Boston Globe reporters who first investigated the sexual abuse scandal in Boston in 2001, premiered last week, and immediately received much critical acclaim both locally and nationally. The film treats the extremely sensitive issue of the sexual abuse scandals from a unique angle: that of reporters who were eager but hesitant to realize just how large and pervasive the problem was.
Unlike stories from the perspective of victims or Church officials involved in the aftermath, the perspective of the reporters allows viewers to step into the simultaneous compassion, horror, and desire for justice that resulted when first these four individuals, and later millions, realized the magnitude of the scandal.
As a non-Catholic, not from Boston, and too young to have been reading the news in 2001, this was really the first time I realized exactly how the scandal became publicized. s long as I can recall, the sexual abuse scandal has simply been an unfortunate truth in the Catholic church. Given my relatively outsider perspective, the thing that was most striking to me was realizing just how painful it was for people in Boston to come to terms with this reality. The deeply seeded Catholic faith of Bostonians is incredibly prevalent throughout the movie as an important aspect of the city.
Perhaps the most evident sign of Bostonians allegiance to the Church comes through the contrast of nearly every other character with Marty Baron, who was hired as an editor at the Globe just before the Spotlight team picked up the sexual abuse story. Baron was the first Jewish editor ever to work at the Globe, and he was also not from Boston. Thus, throughout the film, Baron often offers a completely different perspective than the rest of the reporters and lawyers, who were all raised in New England as Catholics. One example is in his initial decision to make a legal request to unseal certain Church documents, which results in the shocked response from multiple characters: “You are going to sue the Church?!” Of course, The Globe was not actually suing the Church; they were just requesting sealed judicial documents. However, anything even remotely suggestive of an attack against the Church, especially with regard to such weighty allegations as complicity in sexual abuse, seemed to Bostonians as the start of a war. Such a war seemed impossible to wage, especially against an institution that “thinks in centuries.” Given that, Spotlight shows the extreme boldness it took to take on such a story, while simultaneously emphasizing the fact that perhaps because of the intimidating power of the Church, the city had turned a blind eye for far too long.
What I found most striking and emotionally riveting though, was the extremely personal response from each of the four reporters. Each has to realize that they are intertwined with the scandal in their individual ways simply because they grew up surrounded by the Catholic Church. Some had known priests who were guilty and some had known victims, but what all four come to realize by the end is that it “could have been you, could have been me, could have been any of us.” The scandal touched the lives of nearly every Catholic Bostonian.
Even for a viewer not already familiar with the story, Spotlight offers a compelling and honest introduction to the sexual abuse scandal in the Archdiocese of Boston, revealing the way it challenged the Catholic faith and “small town” feel of our city.