Spotlight has been consistently ranked one of the top movies of 2015. Rated R, this true story focuses on the work of the Boston Globe reporting team, called Spotlight. In January 2002, the team broke the story of the Catholic priests molesting children and the Catholic Church systematically covering up this molestation. The scope of the scandal, worldwide and to the highest levels of the church, led Pope Francis to apologize to victims when visiting America in fall 2015.
Since most viewers know the outcome, what makes this movie so engaging? The movie focuses not on the priests, the church, or the victims though all are back stories. The spotlight of the movie is the gritty, hard working Boston Globe reporting team. The movie title Spotlight is actually a double entendre, gleaned from the name of the reporting team, the movie in turn focuses the spotlight on the work of afore-named team, on the cover-up within the Catholic Church and ultimately on the treacherous tentacles that draw seemingly normal, good people into administrative evil.
In the movie, the team is composed of top actors (Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffal, Rachel McAdam and Brian d’Arcy). The Globe’s team in 2001/2002 was composed of some of the top news paper reporters in the country. The Spotlight team’s performance and work ethic meets the standards of a Harvard Business Review article. Everyone understands the goal and their role in getting the story done. Each member of the team gives their all to create a cohesive, documented story under a tight deadline. The entire team is emotionally impacted by the tawdriness of Catholic Church’s failure to protect children and the egregious long-term impact of molestation on victims.
But the real hook isn’t the high quality acting. The compelling question for the viewer is how did this go on for so long? As the movie unfolds, a culture of complicity unfolds before us. The Catholic Church is one of the most powerful entities in Boston. More than 50 percent of the Globe’s readership were Catholic. The reporting team along with many Bostonians grew up in the Catholic faith and went to Catholic schools. This embedded culture led to children being seduced by priests, parents being shamed by church officials for complaining, and lawyers legally negotiating sealed settlements. Even when the Globe was first given the story in 1992; the blinders of culture kept a member of the Spotlight team from grasping the pattern and scope of the problem.
The viewer is told at one point that only an “outsider “could really see the problem. The outsider in this case was the new Globe Editor in Chief, Marty Baron, from the Miami Herald (Liev Schreiber). Jewish and from out of state, Baron found a column about a priest molesting a number of children noteworthy while his Boston staff did not.
In final analysis, Spotlight isn’t only a story about molestation in the Catholic Church. Rather, it is a stirring analysis of administrative evil. Guy Adams in his book, Unmasking Administrative Evil (2014), describes administrative evil as ordinary people engaging in acts of evil unaware they are doing anything wrong. Some of these individuals even view their evil activity as good. In Spotlight, we see several people who argue their cover-up is for the good of the church. These individuals equate what is good for the church as equaling what is good for Boston and the Globe.
The movie ends with a haunting, long list of all the locations around the world where cover-up of priest molestation has been documented. The lingering question for each audience member is, “Where might I be tacitly contributing to administrative evil just by looking the other way?” Is it global warming, failure to speak up for refugees or laughing when politicians endorse building elaborate walls. Possibly even more subtle, equally complicit, do I silently watch unkindness, lack of compassion or ethical violations by my boss, coworkers, my neighbors or my church? What tentacles of administrative evil are creeping into my life? Where do I need to go under a spotlight?