On November 27, the film Spotlight made its nationwide debut. The film has received widespread critical acclaim and is a strong candidate to win the Academy Award for best picture. Spotlight, directed by Thomas McCarthy, written by McCarthy and Josh Singer, and starring Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams, depicts how The Boston Globe’s Spotlight team exposed the cover-up of widespread child sex abuse perpetrated by Catholic priests in the Archdiocese of Boston. I recently attended a private screening of Spotlight along with the other members of my senior religion class, The Problem of Evil. I brought with me a unique range of perspectives that influenced my viewing experience. I watched Spotlight as an avid movie lover, a BC High Student, a Catholic and an individual whose family has been deeply affected by a particular scene in the film.
Critics have hailed Spotlight as one of the best films of the year. Its acclaim is well deserved. Spotlight is, by all standards, a phenomenal film. The subtlety and restraint of Tom McCarthy’s directing anchors the story amid the rapid pace of the screenplay, allowing the viewer to fully appreciate the film’s well-written script and brilliant performances. Mark Ruffalo in particular stands out among the ensemble cast as Boston Globe investigative reporter Michael Rezendes. Although I found the film’s criticism of Boston culture to be a bit heavy-handed, Spotlight is undeniably riveting. I recommend it to all fans of compelling drama.
Like all of my classmates, my curiosity about Spotlight was piqued by the fact that BC High plays a roll in the story. Typically, it would be exciting if our school were portrayed in a Hollywood film. However, Spotlight focuses on a dark period in our school’s history. The film addresses the sexual abuse scandal that rocked the Archdiocese of Boston and the global Catholic community. Some of the abusers were Jesuit Priests who worked at BC High, and their victims were BC High students. After all these years, our community still struggles with the knowledge that students at our school were victimized by people they believed they could trust. Although BC High plays a relatively minor role in the film, the sexual abuse scandal will always be a major part of our school’s history. Although we can never forget the pain that the victims experienced, our community must move forward. We can all be encouraged by the knowledge that our school, in contrast with the Archdiocese of Boston, handled the scandal well. The BC High administration was forthright, cooperative with the investigation, and always put the wellbeing of the victims first. Furthermore, our school has acted on the promise that was made to several victims, that nothing like the incidents that took place in the late 1970’s, and early 1980’s would ever happen again. In order to move on from the past, no matter how horrific it may be, we must face it and accept it. Therefore, I believe all BC High students who feel they are mature enough to handle the film’s disturbing subject matter should see Spotlight.
Shortly after watching Spotlight, I was asked if the film had changed my feelings towards the Catholic Church. It was an interesting question. I am a confirmed Catholic and my faith plays a central role in my life. Many people may be surprised to hear that Spotlight did not change my feelings towards the Catholic Church. The abuse detailed in the film is absolutely horrific, but it simply reminded me of what I already knew, that all people, no matter their title or position, are vulnerable to sin, and some people are capable of doing truly evil things. In fact, Spotlight has received praise from Vatican Radio, the Vatican’s official Radio outlet. Luca Pellegrini, a frequent commentator for Vatican Radio, posted a review of the film written in Italian in which he says Spotlight shows journalists exercising “their most pure vocation.” Pellegrini also praised the film for demonstrating “the inexhaustible and uncontainable force of the truth.” Every Sunday at the noon mass at St. Mary of the Hills Parish in Milton, I recite the Nicene Creed along with the rest of the congregation. In doing so, I profess what I believe as a Catholic, including “One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church”. Spotlight has reminded me of some of the darkest aspects of human nature, but is has not changed my beliefs.
Spotlight focuses on the efforts of the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team to expose the unspeakable suffering that victims of sexual abuse endured, and attention should be directed towards the pain and suffering the of the survivors of abuse and the bravery of those who exposed the cover-up. However, my family has been deeply affected by Spotlight, specifically by one scene in the film. My father, Jack Dunn, BC High class of 1979, was a trustee when the sexual abuse scandal broke. My father worked closely with Mr. Kemeza and played a leading role in BC High’s response to the scandal. My father worked to ensure that victims would be cared for and that BC High would be accepting of the truth, unlike the Archdiocese of Boston. In a Boston Globe article written by Walter Robinson, my father is quoted saying, “We want to clear the air, help the victims and reach out to anyone who contacts us.” Unfortunately, this is not how he was portrayed in the film. The film claims to be “Based on Actual Events,” but the scene in which my father is portrayed is fictionalized. Fictitious lines were assigned to my father and his character downplays the severity of the abuse that took place at BC High. However, this dialogue contradicts The Boston Globe’s actual reports on the meeting. Another fabrication within this scene is the presence of Pete Conley, a fictional Archdiocesan employee who is present in Spotlight’s rendering of the meeting between Globe reporters and BC High administrators. The scene is intended to make it seem as though BC High was among the Catholic institutions complicit in the cover-up of sexual abuse. However, no one from the Archdiocese was present at the meeting. This is an unfair portrayal of my father and of BC High. In an attempt to add an element of drama to the film, the screenwriters responsible for Spotlight betrayed the film’s alleged devotion to the truth and portrayed an innocent man as a villain.
Although the last few weeks have been difficult for my family, I have managed to glean some positive memories from this experience. I have received overwhelming support from teachers, administrators and classmates in the BC High community. There are far too many of you to name, but, if any of you are reading this, I would like to take this opportunity to say that I cannot thank you all enough for your thoughtfulness and concern for my wellbeing and for that of my family.
Like with all films, each of us can assess Spotlight from our own points of view and, based on these perspectives, judge the film however we so choose. The several ways in which this film resonated with me made me realize a degree of commonality in regards to how each of us should consider all creative works, weather they be cinematic, literary, or of another medium: with an open mind. My family was hurt and shaken by the scene that defames my father, but this does not mean I cannot appreciate the poignancy of the film’s storyline and acting. I am shocked and angered that students of the school I love and take pride in suffered unspeakable abuse at the hands of Catholic Priests, but I still profess my Catholic faith with confidence.