By Matthew Ebert
March 10, 2016
I tried to boycott the Oscars, but boycotting the Oscars is like boycotting the rise of Donald J. Trump -- it can't be done. Guilt is not a stand-in for entertainment. So, in 2016, I boycott the Oscars, but they refused to boycott back.
I knew Spotlight would win. There was no suspense. I should have bet money on it. All my cinephile friends bet on The Revenant or Mad Max. But I said no, it'll be Spotlight. Spotlight is the kind of film the Academy loves in 2016 -- the "Pat-Yourself-on-the-Back" Best Picture of the Year.
I boycott the Oscars because I did not want to hear the producer of Spotlight say what I knew he would say: "This film gave a voice to survivors..." I am here to tell you, Spotlight did not give voice to the survivors, unless the survivors are a group of Pulitzer Prize winning journalists.
I am one of those "survivors". Watching Spotlight, I got the sinking feeling that we were props -- scratching track marks, heads bowed, all your shame personified. We were gay, straight, male, female, white, non-white--we were even priests. Never to rise up, never to be anything other than suicidal, shredded, hysterical, clutching a picture of a priest while screaming: "Justice for the VICTIMS!" -- we were stereotypes.
"Go get these guys." One of the victims begged you. We beg you, we assure you -- the embodiment of your guilt and horror at doing nothing for so long. "Go get these guys." We implore you to do our work. We need you to save us. But the truth lies elsewhere -- we don't need you, or your Spotlight on sexual abuse. We don't need the myth of Pope Francis as a balm for our suffering. There is nothing the church can do now that the secrets of the Vatican are out. That is the truth. Cue Gaga and the crowd of long term survivors -- sing 'Melancholy Baby' and launch -- close-up on Kate Winslet crying in the aisles. This is what we are to you--human Kleenex dispensers.
Spotlight is a picture about how the world waited to do something about sex abuse in the Catholic Church. It follows a group of modern papists of varying degrees of orthodoxy, working for non-secular bosses, who incentivize them to uncover all the dirt they can on the sex lives of priests. The Globe reporters uncover more in their own basement filing cabinets than on the Boston beat--finding evidence they buried for decades. Eventually, the investigation exploits SNAP, a survivors network of people abused by Catholic priests.
And there's your story. Cue reporter: "I need details!" No -- you don't. In the words of another famous character actor: "You can't handle the truth." The truth about sexual abuse is a film that will never be made in narrative form.
To the makers of Spotlight -- I am not beholden to you for anything, and I will never thank you for giving me a voice, because you didn't. You gave yourself a voice, and you frame it in a language you understand. What you told is the story of why it took so long to determine we are telling the truth. What you told is the story of cowardice and psychological breakdown in the face of overwhelming evidence that children were being harmed.
For a brief moment we are not looking away, but in looking at us, you do us no service by filtering our experience and melting it down to a few plot points in a Hollywood movie. The movie about how a victim of sexual abuse survives, and rises up, and wins -- that movie has not been made. Because in order to make it, you would have to suspend all your false assumptions about how people overcome sexual abuse and sexual violence.
I don't think that fits tightly into a two hour movie, or our collective narrative about how we victims should or should not overcome such a tragedy. I don't think the makers of Spotlight, or the reporters at the Boston Globe, or anyone who has never been the victim of sexual abuse, understands how the culture at large continues to victimize us by demanding we all respond according to your cultural norms. We continue to use the term victims -- let's start there.
I had a therapist who tried to make me hate my mother. She could never understand how my mother missed it -- the priest who molested me was one of my mother's best friends. This therapist would ask me over and over to get serious about my mother, to get angry at her. She could not even hear what I told her--how my mother was also a victim of the church (not sexually, emotionally and psychologically.) She also was betrayed by this man and the Church. The expectation that any parent can protect a child from a religious figure is a pretty tall order.
My mother's inability to confront the abuse was not an act of consent. Her generation, her family, they were not given the tools, or nuanced enough to question why or how this could happen. Healthcare, like entertainment, rarely gets it right. So in the end, it was the therapist's mother I grew to hate.
I was molested in the archdiocese of Buffalo, N.Y. At the end of Spotlight, there's a list of broken archdioceses all overt the nation, Buffalo is not there. Invisible again, I thought. Years ago, I got the notion to sue the archdiocese. I called a lawyer who had handled one of these cases, but too much time had expired.
In the end, you could give me every building the church owned in New York, plus the Oscar for Best Picture, a standing ovation from Chris Rock, and it still wouldn't pay back all I had lost. There is no amount of money, nothing the church can do -- so please stop monetizing sexual trauma. In monetizing child rape, you further debase my experience. There is little equanimity and less equitability in sexual abuse recovery.
Spotlight fails miserably at capturing the why at the heart of the sex abuse scandal. And Mark Ruffalo screaming "It could have been any of us!" Well, no--it couldn't be any of you. Selection of victims was almost clinical. A clear and logical path was drawn from these priests to me -- it couldn't have been any of you, because it was us -- the six percenters, chosen because of very specific vulnerabilities: race, class, sexual identity, and gender primarily.
The survival of sexual abuse is an inside job, not something the Boston Globe, or the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, or anyone else for that matter, has a right to claim they gave voice to. I give voice to my pain. I came out to my parents, to my entire family, in 1995. That's seven years before The Boston Globe's Spotlight published a word about sexual abuse, and three years after they had enough evidence to do something, but didn't. I told my story, and you did not give me that voice -- I earned it.
An Oscar should be enough, but it never is. I refuse to be your victim -- Hollywood or the Church -- all of our purveyors of institutional sexual abuse, sexual violence, and warped gender constructs love to claim leadership in this arena. They lie. Our goal is not only survive what happened to us then, but what continues to happen now. Spotlight does nothing to improve this condition. Spotlight does everything to lessen society's guilt at doing nothing.
"We hope they hear this all the way to the Vatican." They heard it loud and clear, and Pope Francis was their answer. But like Chris Rock on Hollywood racism, Pope Francis on sex abuse is at best a mild glazing on a stale donut. He's the right spokesmodel for the feel-good crowd, but he does very little to overturn years of sexual harrassment, sexual abuse, and devastating practices like the Church cemetery fund. All these things continue to abuse victims.
We are expected to kill ourselves, or at least attempt it. We are expected to be gay, or confused, grow up to perpetuate the cycle of abuse, and become abusers ourselves. We are expected never to recover on our own, the victims of sexual abuse need you: therapists, journalist, doctors and lawyers, to overcome the massive assault on our bodies. We are never seen as heroes, we are victims -- even if we came forward before Spotlight, we are seen as closeted in our story for not writing it on our arms in black marker.
The truth, my survival, is far more complex than Spotlight would have it. I thank myself, because without myself, I would never recover -- not even from the continued ignominy of a film like Spotlight, and the gross indecency of society's ignorance about our continued plight. Does it occur to anyone that institutional sexual violence has not abated? Your revelation and amplification of our stories will not stop systemic child sexual abuse -- for that, we need activism, education, effective healthcare, and the end of sexual abuse stigma.
Maybe next year Pope Francis can host the Oscars -- he'll make you feel good about sex abuse in the Catholic Church, then hop a ride to Mars on the Pope Mobile. To the makers of Spotlight, and those who win awards for our suffering, be satisfied with your gold, and keep your glitter off my body. This I say in my voice, the same one that uttered these words: "I was sexually assaulted by a Catholic priest."