Spotlight serves as a shining example of what professional, top-flight journalists can accomplish
Spotlight tells the astonishing true story of the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Spotlight” team of investigative journalists, who in 2002 shock the city and the world by exposing the Catholic Church’s systematic cover-up of widespread pedophilia perpetrated by more than 70 local priests.
Written by Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer, and directed by McCarthy, it’s a deeply moving film that sheds light on a world where petrified kids are not ‘’prayed’’ on by priests, but ‘’preyed’’ on by those they respect as mediators of God.
Liev Schreiber delivers a commanding performance as the newly appointed editor of The Boston Globe, who arrives from Miami to take charge of the Globe in the summer of 2001, and directs the Spotlight team to follow up on a column about a local priest accused of having sexually abused dozens of young parishioners over the course of 30 years.
It’s a magnificent ensemble piece, with equally brilliant performances by Michael Keaton as the Spotlight editor, and Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian d’Arcy James as reporters and researchers who are fully aware that taking on the Catholic Church in Boston will have major ramifications when they delve more deeply into the case.
As they confer with victims’ attorney (Stanley Tucci), interview adults who were molested as children, and pursue the release of sealed court records, it becomes clear that the Church’s systematic protection of predatory priests is far more wide-reaching than any of them ever imagined.
Although isolated cases of sex abuse by Catholic priests had been reported prior to the Spotlight investigation, the team’s in-depth, scrupulously fact-checked exposé revealed the scope of clergy-perpetrated crimes—and the Church’s involvement in protecting their clergy from the criminal justice system—with never-before-seen precision.
Producers Nicole Rocklin and Blye Pagon Faust spearheaded the effort to transform the dramatic story of the Boston Globe’s sex-abuse investigation into a film.
“We thought this was the most incredible thing we’d ever heard,” says Faust. “Spotlight took on this institution that had power, money and resources, and showed people that nobody is untouchable.”
Rocklin and Faust approached Anonymous Content about partnering on the feature film.
“We immediately felt like we had to be involved in bringing this epic journey to the screen,” recalls Anonymous founder and CEO Steve Golin. “Spotlight is a thrilling story and at the same time, it’s about something significant.”
Spotlight’s potential to inspire real-world progress also resonated with Participant Media.
“When our friends at Anonymous Content told us they were developing this story, we jumped at the chance to help bring it to the screen,” explains Jonathan King, Participant’s executive vice president of narrative film.
To write the script, Rocklin and Faust brought on acclaimed director, writer and actor Tom McCarthy, director of such acclaimed independent films as The Station Agent, Win Win and The Visitor, and Oscar-nominee for his original screenplay for 2010’s hit animated film Up.
“Tom has an incredible talent for revealing the human heart at the center of complicated stories,” says King.
McCarthy brought on former “West Wing” scribe Josh Singer and responded to the saga on multiple levels.
“I thought it was fascinating to see how this outsider, Marty Baron, comes from Miami and on his first day at the Boston Globe introduces this idea of investigating a possible cover-up by the Catholic Church. A very bold move.”
Additionally, the Spotlight effort offered an opportunity to craft a cinematic love letter to long-form journalism.
“I’m extremely concerned with how little high-end investigative journalism is out there right now compared to what we had 15 years ago,” McCarthy says. “I saw this movie as an opportunity to show by example: Here is the kind of impact that can happen when you have well-funded journalism done by experienced professionals. I mean, what could be more important than the fate of our children?”
McCarthy also brought a personal perspective to the story.
“I was raised Catholic so I have great understanding, admiration and respect for the institution,” he explains.
“This story is not about Church bashing. It’s about asking ‘How does something like this happen?’ The church performed, and in some cases continues to perform, acts of institutional evil not only as an abuser of kids but also through the cover-up of abuse. How could this abuse go on for decades without people standing up and saying something?”
In keeping with the diligence of the Spotlight team, Singer and McCarthy spent months conducting interviews with journalists, victims and others at the center of the story.
“We went up to Boston two or three times, we did multiple interviews with each of the reporters involved in the story and I thought we were done.” recalls Singer. “But verisimilitude was always key for Tom. He kept asking, ‘What about the journalists who worked on Porter? What about the lawyers? Should we talk to Jon Albano? Can we talk to Eric MacLeish?’ He wanted to understand this story from every angle. I’ve always loved research, so this was music to my ears. And, well, big surprise, it was when we reached out beyond our core group that we stumbled upon some of the most unexpected details in this story. And these are the pieces that I think really make the story feel grounded and real.”
Singer, who graduated from Harvard Law School in Boston shortly before the Spotlight investigation began, had generally avoided reading about the Church scandal.
“I remember during my early days working on ‘The West Wing,’ I never wanted to read about it in the newspapers because the idea of clergy sex abuse was so upsetting to me on so many levels. What really drew me to Spotlight was that it’s a story about the reporters who uncovered this abuse. For me, that was the way in. By following these reporters, the audience gets to understand the problem in a way that’s accessible.”
“I immediately felt that this would be an important movie,” recalls Ruffalo. “There are movies you do for ‘them’ and some, like Spotlight, that you do for yourself. All these poor souls are walking around out there who’ve really been wounded in a brutal and hurtful way by an institution that should know better.”
The Spotlight Legacy
Spotlight might be seen as a bookend of sorts to All The President’s Men. When that film about Woodward and Bernstein’s investigation of the Watergate scandal came out in 1976, it earned Jason Robards an Oscar for his portrayal of Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, the father of Spotlight’s Ben Bradlee Jr.
It also inspired a new generation of journalists to examine institutions once seen as off limits. In 2015, Spotlight celebrates the virtues of investigative reporting during a period when many fear that long-form journalism has taken a backseat to 24-hour news cycles, celebrity gossip and sensationalized Internet “click-bait.”
Over the past decade and a half, many newspapers have folded and seasoned journalists have lost their jobs, notes producer Nicole Rocklin.
“With budgets slashed the way they have been, who is going to have the resources and the manpower take on stories like these? If these reporters hadn’t spent years of their lives on this, would it ever have come out? So it’s actually quite scary that investigative teams like this have disappeared from newsrooms around the country.”
McCarthy concurs: “Spotlight serves as a shining example of what professional, top-flight journalists can accomplish. I want to ring the bell about how essential this kind of journalism is, because to me, these reporters are straight-up heroes.”
Almost 14 years after its shocking revelations, the reverberations from the Boston clergy-abuse investigation continue to resonate around the globe and within the Catholic hierarchy. “The Church is now paying a lot of attention to the issues raised in our film and much of the change in the institution can be traced to the work of the Spotlight team,” says producer Michael Sugar.
Participant Media’s Jonathan King adds: “The Boston Globe Spotlight team told an urgent story that changed the world, and that aligns perfectly with our mission at Participant.” To spur further progress, the company has set up a website with information about how viewers can take action regarding issues raised by the film.
To learn more, visit www.TakePart.com/Spotlight.
Spotlight Fact Sheet
- In 2002, the Spotlight team published nearly 600 stories about sex abuse by more than 70 priests whose actions were concealed by the Catholic Church.
- In December 2002, Cardinal Law resigned from the Boston Archdiocese and was re-assigned to the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.
- 249 priests have been publicly accused of sexual abuse within the Boston Archdiocese.
- As of 2008, 1,476 victims survived priest abuse in the Boston area.
- Nationwide 6,427 priests have been accused of sexually abusing 17,259 victims.
- In the years since Spotlight’s report, sexual abuse by Catholic Church priests has been uncovered in 105 American cities and 102 dioceses worldwide, including South Africa (Cape Town and Brits)