The Spotlight’s Narrow Focus
While I personally have always been much more interested in the cinema than the stage, I nonetheless did work in the theater during high school and even managed to play Claudius in my high school’s production of Hamlet during my junior year. I would like to report that my enacting of King Claudius was a smashing success and, on a certain level, to do so would be correct: acting on the stage successfully proved my talents were better suited to the stage crew. I suspect this is why the school’s Shakespeare Festival did not bring me back to star in any plays during my senior year.
I liked working with the lights, using them to direct people’s attention and establish a mood, by carefully selecting which light to use and when. Now, of course, spotlights are used in stage productions to direct the audiences attention to only one element of what is occurring on the stage. This is not only true of the literal spotlight, but the metaphorical spotlights that are employed in our culture by politicians, journalists, clerics, and others who wish to highlight a particular element in a story or event. Last night, the Academy Awards bestowed their highest honor to the movie Spotlight, which the Academy named the Best Picture of 2015 for its portrayal of the Boston Globe’s 2002 reporting of sexual abuse by Catholic priests. Personally, I thought the movie was a thoroughly mediocre, predictable affair hardly deserving of anybody’s attention.
While the filmmakers of Spotlight put on airs of being objective and just simply detailing an important moment in investigative journalism, they actually have put together nothing more than a bland propaganda piece because they have selectively chosen to only focus on the Catholic Church. Shining the spotlight on the Church allows the filmmakers and their audience to ignore all the other players in the sexual abuse, exploitation, and manipulation of minors. Pedophilia is a problem in the West and the percentage of abusing priests tracks with the general population, but nobody really cares to discuss this reality. Hollywood’s interest in sexual abuse by priests is not to be found in any real concern for children, but rather in a desire to change the moral teachings of Catholicism and discredit the Catholic voice, whose teachings may well be the only ones that actually promote healthy sexual behavior to our children.
If one doubts this position, I would like to draw everyone’s attention to the Oscars themeselves. Not 24 hours ago, the Academy happily gave the stage to the producers of Spotlight who used their platform to call for Pope Francis to bring an end to abuse while receiving adulation from their industry peers, who on Oscar night 2003 also happened to give a standing ovation for Roman Polanski as he won Best Director for The Pianist. Polanski was not able to accept his Oscar that evening, though, because he cannot enter the U.S. due to the fact that he is an admitted statutory rapist who would be arrested and imprisoned should he enter U.S. territory. Similarly, Woody Allen has won four Oscars over the course of his career, despite allegations from his adopted daughter that he abused her and that he married another adopted daughter. I imagine the irony is lost on Hollywood’s finest.
My intention in this post is not to defend practices by the Church’s leadership that allowed abusing priests to remain in ministry, nor is it to pretend the sexual abuse of children is not a problem. Precisely because I think pedophilia is a problem–one among many in the area of sexual exploitation of children, I might add–, I am convinced we need to stop addressing it using a spotlight. The sexual abuse of children will not be remedied by focusing on the Catholic Church while also ignoring the fact that public school districts, hospitals, private medical practices, and even families have engaged in the exact same code of silence as was found in the Archdiocese of Boston. The makers of Spotlight concluded their movie by listing on the screen every diocese where a credible accusation of child abuse has occurred, a blatant attempt to make the Catholic Church seem perverse and conspiratorial. Sadly, shining the light on these dioceses allows everyone who sees the movie to ignore all the other institutions and people who have and still are hiding the sexual abuse of children.