Tuesday, February 23, 2016

SPOTLIGHT: A Feminist Film Review by Carol Downer

It's great for those of us who see the institution of patriarchy as oppressing the class of women when a movie comes along that shows clearly how patriarchy works in society. The Oscar-nominated and award-winning film, Spotlight, released in 2015, recounts the story of how the molestation of many young children by Catholic priests in Boston, Massachusetts was covered up until reporters from the Boston Globe exposed it.

Even those who scoff at the term "patriarchy" to refer to anything other than the type of family structure headed up by males, agree that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church has a patriarchal structure and promotes a patriarchal family structure.  So no one should quibble at the term "patriarchal conspiracy" to describe the policies of the Catholic hierarchy in Boston, which was headed up by Cardinal Law, to settle any threatened lawsuits brought by families of the victims (on the condition that they not sue), keeping information about an accused priest confidential- coupled with the decision of the Church to reassign the priest to another parish. The attempt of anyone to cover up a crime is itself a crime, and therefore, if it were to be taken to court and proven that they had done so, the Church's actions would be a criminal conspiracy.

I highly recommend that you see Spotlight because it shows this conspiracy very well, but it shows much more. It shows how various attorneys in Boston and the Boston press made this alleged criminal conspiracy successful. The phrase "old boy network" applies in this case. In Boston, a Catholic town, the prominent men that were in a position to do something went to school together and played golf together. Some shared family celebrations together. They were loath to assist in ferreting out the truth because associates who represented the Church persuaded them that the damage to the Church's reputation by bringing a spotlight to the problem would greatly outweigh whatever damage had been done to individuals. The attorneys for the victims had a duty to get justice for their clients, so when their clients decided to settle and keep quiet, they had performed their duty and had to no obligation to the public.

Spotlight shows us the pain of the victims who were haunted for years by the shattering of their childhood innocence and it also shows the power of male bonding,  and the ways that patriarchal socialization effects everyone. The erring priests were able to carry out their abusive behaviors, because of the trust of the victims and their families, and they were able to go unpunished and continue their abusive behaviors because of the victims' and the Church members' unwillingness or inability to reconcile this breach of their trust with their reverence for the Church and the men who run it.

Spotlight is a beautifully acted, touching film that skillfully recounts the story that most of us followed in the media, and the brilliant editing enables the viewer to answer for themselves the question most of us asked while the repercussions of the scandal unfolded: "How could this happen and go on for so long?" It's unsparing journalistic style doesn't preach any message, other than to the show the importance of vigorous journalistic investigation in a democracy and to caution all of us to not let loyalties to old friends and fear of facing unpleasant truths turn our eyes away from injustice, especially toward young and defenseless children.

Note: Subsequently, it was established that the Catholic hierarchy had been engaging in the practice of transferring accused priests to locations all over the country where they were in a position to continue their abuse.

Also, none of the leaders of the Catholic hierarchy have been charged with any crime. Most are still in their position, or even transferred to positions that give them more power and prestige within the Church organizations.

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