“If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.”
This is just one of the many stunning one-liners delivered by the great Stanley Tucci in the film “Spotlight,” written by Josh Singer and directed by Tom McCarthy.
“Spotlight” tells the true story of the investigative journalism unit of The Boston Globe that initially uncovered the reports of abuse in the Boston Catholic Church community in 2002 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2003. The film follows the team of six reporters and their process of uncovering the systemic sexual abuse that was buried in Catholic schools and churches in the Boston area for decades. As the reporters delve deeper into the issue, they are met with hostile resistance from both the Church and the greater Boston community. While audience members are presumably aware of the implications that this singular investigation ended up having on the rest of the world, the six reporters had no idea what they were getting themselves into: To the disbelief of the journalists, what started off as one or two allegations quickly turned into the discovery of more than 90 abusive priests in the Boston area alone. This number only went up after the article went to print, implicating different sects of the Catholic Church and shaking the trust of millions of people around the world.
Director Tom McCarthy had a specific vision of how he wanted to portray the scandal: “What we were concerned with was transporting people back in time, where we didn’t have a sense that there were all these bad priests, where there was this massive cover-up happening, where the church was the type of place you’d leave your children — and unfortunately, we now know that trust is certainly severely fractured or completely broken,” McCarthy said to The Hoya.
He added that his guiding question was, “How do we let people discover this through the eyes of these reporters?”
The star-studded cast includes Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, Mark Ruffalo and Stanley Tucci among others, each delivering a uniquely dynamic and riveting performance. The journalists who committed themselves to bringing this issue of abuse to light were not exempt from the emotional toll that many of the victims felt, a fact that the talented actors portrayed perfectly. As the story goes on, each journalist becomes more and more emotionally invested — both in the victims and in bringing justice by coming down on the Catholic Church with the story.
In one particular scene, Rachel McAdams’ character, Sacha Pfeiffer, talks about her loss of faith since the investigation began — a moment that perfectly rides the line of heartfelt without being melodramatic and captures how fundamentally this investigation altered people’s views on religion and the Catholic Church.
The actors equally impressed McCarthy.
“It’s really wild to watch what they picked up on,” McCarthy said. “I mean, even the reporters were blown away by it … that’s what great actors do. And what it does is not only does it bring real authenticity to the work, it creates a world that these guys can kind of pop into.”
“I really think from the beginning, Tom’s ethos was authenticity: ‘Let’s get it right, and let’s get it really right, not just ‘movie right,’” screenwriter Josh Singer told The Hoya.
Though the cast was obviously high profile, even more was added to the movie through the performances of lesser-known supporting roles. The performances by actors like Michael Cyril Creighton and Neal Huff, both of whom played adults suffering from mental illness as a result of the abuse they endured as children, were stunning.
“Some of the smaller roles packed such a punch, and I think that really is what makes this works so well as a whole acting piece,” Singer said.
However, making this movie was no small task. Abuse within the Church is still an extremely charged issue today, and in rehashing this controversy through the making of “Spotlight,” McCarthy and Singer encountered a lot of resistance.
“We shot at Fenway,” McCarthy said. “We were going to film the Boston Red Sox playing the New York Yankees … and the Yankees read the script and were like ‘nope, not touchin’ it.’ And it was a marketing decision. [They] don’t think the Yankees should be associated with this story.”
“Apparently they told the folks at the Red Sox, ‘We don’t think you should be associated with this story either,’” Singer said.
Caution from high-profile sports teams was not the only bump in the road McCarthy’s production team encountered. The film crew was denied from multiple filming locations, including McCarthy’s alma mater: Jesuit university Boston College.
McCarthy wanted to film part of the movie at the cardinal’s residence in Boston — a property that, ironically, was sold to Boston College when the archdiocese attempted to scrape money together to pay off the victims of the abuse scandal. He sold the property for $90 million.
“[Boston College] gave us a tour of it, and they were very nice,” McCarthy said. “And now we just want to shoot this scene … and they were like ‘No.’ And I said, “What do you mean? We’re all friends here; I went here; you love me!” But their basic answer was ‘We don’t want to be associated with what happened.’ And I was like but you are! Here’s the chance to set the record straight.”
McCarthy and Singer also intended to raise awareness about another issue: the social necessity of the dying art that is journalism.
“I don’t think people understand what has happened to the institution of journalism in the last 15 years. I don’t think people understand what bad shape it’s in and how essential it is to our community,” McCarthy said.
Ultimately, “Spotlight” does a great service as a socially charged film — it not only brings the ever-present issue of abuse back into the limelight but also commends the reporters and journalistic skill that were responsible for advocating change in the Catholic Church.
The film ends poignantly, with reporters entering the Boston Globe office on the morning the story went to print. The journalists are speechless as every phone in the office rings incessantly — all with more victims, all with more stories like the ones they published.
“Spotlight” is definitely a must-see, and if change is to be instituted, it is a story that must continue to be told.
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