“Break the Story, Break the Silence” – the slogan of the 2015 crime drama film Spotlight – rings powerfully. Based on real events, Spotlight tells the story of a news team investigating widespread child sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests in the Boston area.
The film gets its name from an investigative team on The Boston Globe called “Spotlight.” The Globe hires a new editor for the team named Marty Baron. A column about a lawyer named Mitchell Garabedian piques his interest in a case, in which Garabedian says Cardinal Bernard Law knew that clergyman John Geoghan was molesting children but did nothing to stop him. Baron and another reporter, Michael Rezendes, push for the Spotlight team to investigate this case that drew little press attention previously in the 1970’s.
A critical pattern comes to light in the investigation: the priest John Geoghan was not the only one guilty of child molestation. Baron and other members of the Spotlight team come to this conclusion after discovering a group called Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). They talk to the victims of such abuse, many of which share heart-wrenching stories of how life was never the same after being molested.
Rezendes and Baron discover that, on the flip side, a support group for priests who exhibited pedophilic tendencies exists. The former priest in charge, Richard Sipe, indicates that statistically six percent of priests are abusive, which amounts to about ninety priests in Boston. The Spotlight team works relentlessly to see if this shocking number of child-abusing priests is truly accurate – little do they know what they have gotten themselves into.
In this story of a dark, twisted epidemic, it is not as easy as one would think to root for the Spotlight team members as “heroes.” For example, Rezendes reveals to Garabedian that he is a member of the Spotlight team, even though his superior tells him otherwise. Furthermore, there are multiple situations the reporters push the victims out of their comfort zone in speaking about their traumatic experiences. The film raises questions about the ethics of reporting, and what journalists’ limits are. For example, one of the senior editors of the Spotlight team reveals later in the film that he had been concealing important information regarding the epidemic for nearly a decade.
Spotlight’s captivating story received overwhelmingly positive responses from critics and was extremely successful in the box office, grossing $92.2 million worldwide. In addition, it received three nominations for the Golden Globe Awards and won two Academy Awards.
With regards to its accuracy, the director Tom McCarthy made several changes to the story. However, the individuals represented by movie characters confirmed the similarity to some degree. Furthermore, the Roman Catholic Church responded positively to the movie, saying that it encouraged the Church to reform itself and to remain accountable. According to Luca Pellegrini from the Vatican Radio, the reporters “made themselves examples of their most pure vocation, that of finding the facts, verifying sources.”
Spotlight is a film worth watching, because like the Spotlight team members, viewers will want to know the truth of what really happened with the Catholic priests in Boston. After watching, one can decide whether to agree or disagree with Pellegrini’s statement – whether the journalists’ end justified their means.