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Oscars Season – Reflections on Spotlight: A System Failing Its People

With the Academy Awards creeping up next week, I figured it would be a good time to reflect on some of the recent winners and nominees that have stuck in my head for one reason or another. Who knows why the Oscars have been able to keep themselves at the forefront of the conversation of film for as long as they have been. Each year with more and more blockbusters coming out and not being represented it feels as though that gap is only getting larger. That said, by this time of the year without fail I find myself planning out how I am going to watch every single Oscar movie and start ranking them with my girlfriend.

To put it simply, I love movies and I love Oscars. And I’m not apologizing for it.


It’s a humbling feeling to see a piece of history that you lived through and experienced encapsulated in a movie.

For one thing, you feel old as fuck. How the hell can a part of my life, a memory of mine be a piece of American History? Did I just become an old man?

That said, once you work through that and humble yourself, you realize the power and catharsis of reliving those events.

Growing up as a Roman Catholic in the suburbs of Boston, the church played such a large part of my early years. To be fair and transparent, it was nowhere near as much as it was for my father when he grew up. He used to go to the Latin masses before they made the switch to English. Later on, he would contemplate becoming a priest himself.

Still, if you weren’t going to church on Sundays, or taking some time during the weeknights to go to church school, you would be surrounded by the churches in the middle of the city.

I was watching Pocahontas with my girlfriend last night, this is relevant I swear, and was immediately taken back to history class on the founding of Virginia, how it was founded as a company for profit.

Massachusetts and the pilgrims, I explained to my girlfriend, were empowered on the mission to have religious freedom. To pray the way you want.

I don’t know what that would feel like. To be such a zealot that you are willing to move away from your community and home to board a ship so you can pray how you need to.

That’s powerful any way you slice it.

It is also a good entry point into Boston. While the Catholic Church has since replaced the place of the Pilgrims’ Protestantism that level of revere for the Church, even if you do not actively go to church, is still ingrained in the city’s DNA.

It is also a good way to understand how the church was shitty enough to protect the priests who molested children in their congregations, and the city never once questioned it.

Tom McCarthy’s 2015 film Spotlight does a very good job in, if not portraying the actions and vileness of the church in the city during this time, at least showing how the church’s influence was so embedded in the city. More importantly, it shows how these journalists used their tact to take down this protected organization.

I was not molested or touched inappropriately as a child by a priest, but I very much remember that story coming out by the Boston Globe Spotlight team in elementary school and immediately feeling like I was not safe in the place I was supposed to feel the most safe and secure in.

That film, the year’s best picture winner, took me right back to that year when you knew something was going on, but you could not quite put your finger on it because thankfully words like molestation and rape weren’t in my vocabulary. Still I remember sitting around the lunch table and discussing it with my peers.

That’s a conversation that we should have never had and were totally unqualified to discuss. Almost comically so, if it wasn’t about something as awful as molesting children.

Spotlight probably isn’t a film for people who don’t remember that. It isn’t for someone, at least in my opinion, who had to lose their faith because they realized this thing they literally worshipped was a fallacy in the worst possible way. It’s a fine film, but I couldn’t imagine watching it without that frame of reference. It’s impossible for me to separate.

I took my girlfriend to it, and she was more invested in Pocahontas last night than that film.

I shouldn’t be mad. But it is hard for me to explain just how emotionally overwhelming it was for me.

As comical and absurd as Mark Ruffalo’s “They knew!” scene, it kind of is the most relieving part of Spotlight. It’s exactly what made that thing so awful. They fucking knew. And they let the priests continue to rape these children because they valued their beliefs over the well-being of others. And the city let them by allowing them to have such a powerful grip on us.

That’s a weird thing to realize, that the system and people at top matter more than the casualties along the way. You start to spiral if you think that. It led to me to lose my faith.

I kept asking why?

I think the entire community in Parkland, Florida is currently asking that question. At what point did the lives of our children and families matter less than the guns used to massacre them?

Outwardly, a lot of people who are Pro-Gun may reject this sentiment. They would argue that I am conflating two issues that are not related.

The thing is that these are two institutions who got way more powerful than they ever should have, with a loyal constituency and deep pockets, and that we have continued allowed to play by their own rules despite the constant abuse of privilege.

Just like Boston with the Church, America has guns embedded in its DNA. That idea of revolution and revolt has always been accompanied by the imagery of some form of firearm, perhaps a musket, to show that we mean business. To rewrite the gun laws means that we are rewriting our DNA to some of the population.

This is a serious thing. We can’t just brush aside these opinions as much as we may want to because it makes things simpler. However, by the same token we can’t let the country continue down the path of senseless violence and loss because it is easier for your own day to day life.

It would have been a lot easier for my father to not have to question the church and its motives after the scandal. It would have been easier for all of us to say that God is true and all knowing and that this will get sorted later. Instead we had to change our beliefs and the power we gave to this instiution based on the evidence that was brought to us.

Spotlight is about the uncovering of this evidence. That is what makes it a worthy movie. It is about the power of journalism, research, and fact. What fact can do to bring down evil.

Dissenters may say that guns and the Catholic Church molestations are not the same. And they are right.

For the Church, “They knew,” but we didn’t. We needed the strong people of the Spotlight team and the courageous victims to come forward.

With guns, we are not as fortunate to plead ignorance. We are reminded seemingly every month of their heinous unchecked power.

When they write the movie on these shootings, Mark Ruffalo will be shouting, “We knew!”

And that is a scene we will not be able to brush aside.





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