Review: ‘Spotlight’ in the Era of Oprah and Fake News

Recently, I watched the movie Spotlight on Netflix.  I am a bit late coming to the film. It was released in 2015 and garnered a handful of well-deserved awards including Oscars for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. In some ways, it was better that I waited.

Spotlight is based on a series of articles published by the ‘Spotlight’ team at the Boston Globe who investigated sexual abuse by priests in the Roman Catholic Church prior to 2001. The investigation blew the lid off a massive cover-up by church officials and earned The Globe the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. 

So much has happened in the past year that the film seemed even more poignant now. We’re in an era of fake news allegations, collusion probes, sexual harassment investigations, and almost daily rants from that guy in the White House who seems to tweet while the rest of us sleep. Then there’s Oprah’s rousing speech when she received the Cecil B. de Mille Award at the Golden Globes.  Her ‘truth shall set you free’ message rang in my ears as I watched the film.

In Spotlight, actors Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, Brian d’Arcy James, Liev Schreiber, and Billy Crudup play key roles. The movie takes viewers behind the scenes and shows the dogged work of reporters on the Spotlight team who dug through mounds of documents and interviewed dozens of victims to get at the truth.

The investigative team filed court documents to release records that had been kept secret.  They cross-referenced sources and checked the validity, accuracy and reliability of purported statements. Once they’d gained solid evidence of sexual abuse and the church’s campaign to keep it secret, they released the information through a series of columns in The Globe.

A survey conducted in August 2017 by the Pew Research Center found that two-thirds of Americans get at least some of their news on social media – with two-in-ten doing so often. Age makes a difference, Of those under 50 years old, 78% are more likely than their elders to get news from these sites.  These are sources where information is often posted that has not been checked or verified, where facts are sometimes in dispute, and where opinions are often passed off as breaking news.  

Watching Spotlight highlighted the stringent measures investigative journalists and trust-worthy non-fiction writers take to ensure that what they write is dead-on accurate. I think Oprah nailed it in her speech:  

We know the press is under siege these days. We also know it’s the insatiable dedication to uncovering the absolute truth that keeps us from turning a blind eye to corruption and to injustice. To—to tyrants and victims, and secrets and lies. I want to say that I value the press more than ever before as we try to navigate these complicated times, which brings me to this: what I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.

Spotlight is one film I’d suggest everyone should see, especially, perhaps, the guy in the White House who can’t seem to discern fact from fake. 


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