Is the Film Spotlight Sexist?
By Rosanna Savone
March 10, 2016
Felt let down by Spotlight too?
Being reared in the Roman Catholic religion, I was particularly interested in watching the film since it's release in theaters back in November.
I personally left the church the first moment I could at the age of eighteen largely because of its antiquated, sexist and unequal treatment of women.
My decision was affirmed just a few years later, when the Boston Globe literally shined a "spotlight" on the dysfunction that embodies this religious institution and its hierarchy of ecclesiastical rulers.
After all, who else but dysfunctional men would knowingly put as many as 5,000 children into harm's way to protect their own reputation? And these are the guys that claim to know something I don't about God?
But I wasn't the only one particularly interested in seeing Spotlight.
My monthly film club gathering of four women (including myself) had readily agreed (twice in a row, which is a record) on the same movie.
One of the women was reared in a progressive Catholic Church back in Chicago and continues to practice and rear her own children within the faith. The other two practice other Christian denominations. We all were excited to see this - especially after it was awarded an Oscar for both Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture.
But as we watched, it was clear that the weight of the actual true events and the superb acting were the only things making this film watchable - although I must point out that two out of four of us fell asleep half way in. Interestingly, it was the two of us with the Catholic upbringings that managed to keep awake because of our particular connection to the story.
But I couldn't blame my friends for falling asleep. Besides being told in the most boring way possible, this film lacked female perspective so we couldn't make much of a connection.
It didn't take long for me to question - Best Original Screenplay? Best Picture? Really?
I started to conclude that old white men must have such immense egos that they believe it entertaining to sit and watch a bunch of old white men talk to each other for two hours. (Someone really needs to send these guys a memo that it's not the case for the rest of society and that's why we don't go to the movies.)
Now, I know there was the role of Sacha Pfeiffer, the only female journalist on the Spotlight team, played extremely well by Rachel McAdam. But let's face the numbers, she was only one woman to six men that this story was told through and her role to be blunt was the least interesting.
Take a look at the trailer if you don't believe me. Pay attention to who has the best lines and scenes and notice how little McAdam even appears in it.
Unlike the other characters, she never received a juicy scene to flex her acting muscles similar to Ruffalo's character screaming about the importance of this story because it could have happened to anybody or James' character discovering that one of those so-called treatment facilities for rehabilitating sexually abusive priests was around the corner from his home and children.
Yes, McAdam did get to place the newspaper article in front of her devoutly Catholic nana, but she barely had a line when she did it. (Now that I think about it. Did she even have a line? Well, that tells you how memorable it was.)
It's a testament to her acting ability that McAdam managed to get an Oscar nomination with the material she was given to work with.
Now, I know that this screenplay was based on a true story and you might be thinking that this year's Oscar winning screenwriters, Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy, couldn't just add female reporters willy-nilly to give the film a female perspective.
But here's the thing - they didn't have to cut out virtually any mention of the sexual abuse that priests perpetrated against girls.
Most estimates conclude that Catholic priests sexually abused about 5,000 children from 1950 until now. Girls, mostly under the age of 7, make up 21% of that number. Yet, these screenwriters decided to focus on TWO differing male perspectives - one heterosexual, the other homosexual - at the expense of any female perspective.
And the reasoning they used to explain away why they weren't going to highlight anything about these little girls' traumatic abuse didn't help matters any.
They threw in one condescending line (I'm sure to save screen time for more men) stating that priests often targeted boys from ages eleven to fourteen because they were more likely to keep quiet than a girl due to the shame. You know, because of the homosexual element involved.
Those were the exact words that popped in my head.
How in the hell do you make the assumption that it's a little less shameful for a girl to experience a dirty old MAN'S genitalia shoved in her mouth because it's a penis over a clitoris? (Am I not being a lady, right now? Deal with it.)
Again, you may be thinking that the screenwriters could have been bound in some way to the actual story. Maybe that's what the real journalists thought? After all, the actual published article did focus on one of the worst perpetrators, John J. Geoghan, who preferred to prey on boys although he did molest girls as well.
But the real journalists interviewed as many victims as they could before writing the story, which included the female victims. The screenwriters could have drawn from something they found within those interviews.
Now, to be fair, Singer and McCarthy did have time to show one scene with one poor, unsuspecting mother, who allowed a priest in her home only to discover he was molesting her boys. But that five-minute (if that) scene didn't give much time to connect with her - to understand her circumstances and feel her pain.
The fact of the matter is there was no real reason to cut the female victims' perspective out of this film.
Other than, of course, the myth that men continue to cling onto that their experience is somehow more interesting. But let me tell you, watching a bunch of journalists sit in chairs and talk, talk, talk, talk, talk isn't as interesting as you think; hence, how two of my friends couldn't even stay awake.
How much better would it have been to see the boy sitting in the front seat of Geoghan's car with the priest reaching over?
WE SEE his entire ice cream melting down his arm.
But the boy lets it drip because he doesn't dare move.
He definitely doesn't dare look down.
Just stares blankly ahead - mortified, in shock - as his body shakes from the priest in his lap.
Get my drift. Yet, Spotlight - with all its exposition - won the Oscar for best original screenplay.
I can't help but conclude the only reason films like this win Oscars all the time is because like priests, the entertainment business prefers to play with boys.