Spotlight Producer and Writer Discusses Journalism's Role in Social Activism

By Aria Kovalovich
Daily Pennsylvanian
March 31, 2016

Spotlight co-writer and Harvard Law graduate Josh Singer spoke in Zellerbach Theater on Wednesday evening.

Oscar-winning producer and co-writer of “Spotlight” Josh Singer squinted as he walked up to the podium of Annenberg’s Zellerbach Theater. “I am more used to being in a dark room staring at a screen than public speaking, but I guess this is a dark room,” he said.

The Harvard Law graduate-turned-screenwriter-and-producer returned to his native Philadelphia on Wednesday to speak at Penn’s Levin Family Dean’s Forum in a discussion entitled, “How Hollywood is Spotlighting Social Change.”

Singer was joined by “Spotlight” actor Neal Huff as well as a faculty panel comprised of church and state scholar of law Marci Hamilton, child traumatologist Steven Berkowitz and professor of English and cinema studies Peter Decherney, whose most recent book is a short history of Hollywood.

“Spotlight” tells the story of the Boston Globe team that exposed the Roman Catholic Church’s cover-up of sexual abuse of children by priests. The movie won this year’s Academy Awards for best picture and best original screenplay.

The three scholars on the panel outlined their field’s stake in the national discussion of clergy sexual abuse of children. Each applauded “Spotlight” for being a large impetus for immediate and future positive change for the victims.

Hamilton noted that more states are changing obstructing statues of limitations laws, which prevent individuals from being charged with crimes after a certain number of years.

“This is the massive public education we needed,” she said of the movie.

Many of the speakers spoke of the stigma surrounding the issue of child sexual abuse, citing a bystander culture, public ignorance and denial and a blind love of institution.

“It needs to be talked about and it isn’t. And I think the Academy Awards are important because they represent Hollywood’s vision for itself,” Decherney said. “Hollywood likes to see itself as being political and engaged.”

Singer spoke on the need to break the barriers preventing victims from speaking out.

“Beyond their story being difficult to listen to, they might not express it in the same way that others that haven’t suffered might,” he said of the survivors he has spoken to. “The real message of the movie is we all need to look, we all need to listen when these people speak. It is a message of deference and complicity.”

Singer, having extensively researched investigative reporting, offered advice to the next generation of journalists.

“It is important to understand that journalism is both persistent and judging. It’s not about getting it out there as fast as possible,” Singer said in an interview.

He also discussed the financial difficulties many newspapers are facing in funding these types of long-term investigations.

“The next generation is gonna have to be creative about how we’re gonna fund this,” he said.

The speakers noted that “Spotlight” is inspiring social awareness, potentially bringing films with political messages back into vogue.

“I think this time maybe the truth is lucrative,” Huff said. “If survivors can feel a lift on the stigma, that might make some of these institutions wake up ... it is the only thing that makes some of these old boys wake up.”








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