When Spotlight first came out last year, I remember seeing it on the cinema schedule and glossing it over, never giving it a second thought. Till then, I’d never seen or heard any marketing for the movie. And the synopsis just didn’t pull me in.
It showed up again on my radar about three weeks before the Oscars, when I checked out the 2015 AFI list and saw Spotlight there at number eight. I still felt reluctant to watch it. The poster, the synopsis, everything about the movie felt uneventful. Not even its Rotten Tomatoes score got me to watch it.
And so, I’m probably like a lot of people, because I finally committed the two hours to see the movie because of its Best Picture win.
And I’m happy I did.
Just to be clear, Spotlight is a very “uneventful” movie. There are no fisticuffs, no explosions, no gunshots, no fights; there was just one heated argument in the entire movie. And yet, this movie is probably the most important movie I’ve seen in recent memory. And here’s why:
I’m a trained media writer. A decade ago, I’d easily identify as a journalist. But media fragmentation, and poor treatment of journalists in Nigeria has made me diversify my job pool. Nowadays, I tackle projects on the “book writing and freelance” side of things, while masquerading as a Technology Editor during the day. But deep down in my heart, I’m in love with reporting a well researched story. And Spotlight reminds me of why I always will.
The movie is based on true events, about how The Boston Globe’s investigative department uncovered a series of child abuses cases and the systemic cover-ups that had been going on for decades. Like I said, the synopsis doesn’t really do it any favours. But there’s a reason the Academy thinks it’s 2015’s Best Picture.
Spotlight tells a true life story about child sexual abuse, without adding gratuitous shock value and without the “usual” Hollywood pizzazz, which is an achievement in itself. By the time the second act gets underway, you’re completely invested in the characters. And the story they are trying to break.
I’m happy this movie got the recognition it deserved. Spotlight is a reminder of why real journalism is important. The internet seems to have forced newsrooms to become PR annexes, what with all the fluff pieces and shallow reporting going on today.
Another thing that stood out about the movie was the underlying message it delivered. There’s this profound scene at the end of its first act. Martin Baron (played by Liev Schreiber), is the new Boston GLobe editor who just got hired and is responsible for reopening the story. He’s kind of doing the rounds, establishing lines of communication with the church on the almost forgotten sexual abuse claims. Len Cariou, plays Cardinal Law, the then Archbishop of Boston who came under fire for his inactions and the dismissive way he handled the recurrent abuse cases. With that context, here’s the conversation that ensued between the two men at their first meeting:
Cardinal Law: If I can be of any help, Marty, don’t hesitate to ask. I find that the city flourishes when its great institutions work together.
Marty Baron: Thank you. Personally I’m of the opinion that for a paper to best perform its function, it really needs to stand alone.
For a paper to do its job, for it to maintain its true essence and not become a glorified partisan weapon, it needs to stand alone. This statement is particularly poignant for a country like Nigeria where media houses seem to be an extension of partisan political strategy. There’s no subtlety in the way politicians are wielding their individual media houses as tools to tear into their opposition.
Anyway, this is not about Nigerian politics. This is about investigative journalism and its role in society. Publishers and Editors are cutting back on investigative resources as readership continues to dwindle. The current newspaper model doesn’t seem to support channeling extensive resources into stories that would take longer than an hour, maybe two to report. The Spotlight team consisting of four people initially, took five months to meticulously research, interview and collate information on the story before a single story was published. In today’s twitter/snapchat world, that’s too long.
Perhaps it’s time more resources were comitted to telling truly important stories.
Oh by the way, at the end of the movie, there was a list of places where instances of child abuse by catholic clergymen were uncovered. And guess what? Akute, Nigeria was on the list. That’s right. A seemingly routine editor’s meeting in 2001 in a Boston Globe newsroom kicked off an investigation on a story whose domino effect uncovered several instances of child abuse all the way in Nigeria.
That’s what good investigative journalism can do. Think about that.