8 Ways You Can Think About, and React to, the Oscar Win by ‘Spotlight’

SpotlightSo, “Spotlight”– the searing drama about The Boston Globe’s investigation into the priest sex-abuse scandal in Boston, published in early 2002 — won the Oscar for Best Picture.

Why?

What do we do now?

At my Pax Culturati blog over at Patheos Catholic, I tackle the technicalities of the why, and what anti-Catholicism did or didn’t have to do with it. Click here for the whole thing (which includes some reaction to the film from the Vatican), but here’s a taste:

…here are some showbiz things to know about why “Spotlight” won, and the reasons have more to do with the voters and how they voted than a Tinseltown conspiracy to throw more mud on the Church.

Here’s one explanation from The Hollywood Reporter:

Spotlight was a beneficiary of the preferential ballot employed by the Academy and only one other major awards group, the Producers Guild of America. This system is intended to produce a winner that everyone at least likes — a film that might appear at No. 2 or 3 on most ballots — as opposed to one that the largest fraction of people loved but most others did not, like DGA Award winner The Revenant.

The PGA’s employment of this system produced a PGA Award win for The Big Short, which, for a time, put that dramedy in the pole position for the Oscar in the view of most pundits. But there was a difference that many of us failed to account for: The PGA is comprised of producers, whereas the largest branch of the Academy is comprised of actors, whose clear preference was Spotlight, as evidenced by the SAG Awards. Pundits should be forgiven, though: On the four other occasions in which the top three guilds each picked a different winner, the best picture Oscar twice went to the PGA’s pick and twice to the DGA’s pick, but never to SAG’s pick — until Sunday.

“Spotlight” had some other things going for it. It’s an ensemble cast; it employed people who were more working actors than big movie stars; and it was dialogue-heavy, as opposed to action-heavy. All of these things appeal to other actors, who make up the largest voting bloc in the Motion Picture Academy.

Critics might have preferred outdoor action drama “The Revenant” and its big star turn for Leonardo DiCaprio (who finally took home his long-awaited Best Actor Oscar), but it evidently didn’t appeal as much to actors.

On Oscar Sunday, Feb. 28, Tony Sands, the Senior Producer here at Family Theater Productions, and I livetweeted the awards from @FamilyTheater1 on Twitter. Here’s his take — informed both by faith and by his showbiz knowledge — on what we should do going forward. Take it away, Tony.

Thank you, Kate, and to our readers, I would make a handful of suggestions:

  1. Own It (the Bad and the Good): Say, especially if someone confronts you, “Yes, it happened, it was terrible, and the fact that it occurred to even one child is a tragedy.” The silver lining is, it is helping to purify the church, both of sexual predators but also of those who protected them. It helped us all become more aware of our duty to defend the most vulnerable. Also, we have made huge strides now making us one of the safest institutions that regularly interacts with minors.
  2. Know It: Educate yourself on what the Church is doing to address this issue. As EWTN writer Joan Desmond details in this piece for the National Catholic Register, the Church has implemented many programs, from the Safeguard the Children program in this diocese, to the “Zero Tolerance” policy in most dioceses. Due to this stance, if a religious or priest is even accused of molestation, the first step is to remove the person from ministry involving children. Then, investigations begin to see if the claim is valid. American Catholics have decided to err on the side of caution.
  3. Confront It: Identify the lies and know the truth, then share it. It has been said, “you may be the only gospel somebody ever reads.” To that end, if someone brings up this issue, in a loving way, acknowledge their thoughts. Listen. But also feel free to address misconceptions or explain the facts. Examples of misconceptions to address: *Note, I’m going to use the word “they” in my example below because people often don’t actually know who they’re speaking about when referring to the clergy scandal.
  4. “They all knew. They were all a part of it”: That’s a lie. The majority of reliable, secular news sources, like Newsweek, identify the percentage of priests accused of abuse at 3-5%. To clarify, that is not the number convicted of abuse but the number accused. By definition the very definition, this is not “all.” This means the great majority of priests and religious had no involvement and no knowledge of what was going on, until the story broke in the media.
  5. “They let it happen”: Also a lie. In nearly every case of abuse that was settled, the priest or religious involved was sent some type of counseling or rehabilitation program. It was commonly believed that pedophilia, and many such disorders could be “cured”; it wasn’t until the mid- to late ’90s that it became generally accepted that pedophilia couldn’t be eradicated. This is especially important to remember because the majority of abuse cases took place 30, 40 and sometimes 50 years ago. In many instances, a diocese had spent tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars “rehabilitating” a priest or priests. This is a huge answer to a question that plagued me. Why return a molester back to service? The answer: because thousands of dollars had been spent to “fix” the priest, who swore he was “better” and this statement was backed by a clean bill of health given by a trained and licensed psychiatrist.
  6. “This is a Catholic problem.” I mention this in particular because of the participation by people involved in the film in a “protest” in front of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles (protest is in quotes because only 20 people attended). Also, I mention it because of the direct call out during the Oscars to the Vatican, when producer Michael Sugar said, “Pope Francis, it is time to protect the children and restore the faith.” Yes, these abuses must be addressed, but if these actors and filmmakers sincerely cared about children and the truth, then they fell far short. At the very least, the protest should have moved from the cathedral to the nearest Protestant community, the neighborhood Jewish synagogue, and then it certainly needed to make a stop in front of headquarters of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Finally, if the protesters were really being honest, they would have ended in front of Kodak Theater protesting the Oscars themselves. Why? Because preconceptions must be met with facts. The rate of abuse in the Catholic Church is tragic, but it is about equal to that of all other major denomination, and that in the Jewish faith. If you’re thinking maybe it’s a religious issue, think again. The percentage of molestation is twice that high in public schools. Child abuse occurs in Hollywood, and is depicted in the recent documentary “Hush.” Please remember that while the Academy voted for “Spotlight” yesterday, it awarded an Oscar in 2003 to the director Roman Polanski. While Polanski is famous for the classic movie “Chinatown,” he is also infamous for fleeing the U.S. to escape sentencing for molesting a 13-year-old girl. While the Academy honored a film that condemned molestation last night, it had literally given a standing ovation to an admitted child molester just one year after the church scandals broke. These facts are not brought up in effort to spread dirt, but to remind us that we need to fight against injustice everywhere, not just where it’s convenient for us to see it.
  7. Stand Up: If you feel the issue portrayed truly bothers you, say something about it. A number of celebrities, including the very well-paid Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith complained about an injustice — the lack of diversity — they saw in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. While the president of the Academy, the host of the Oscars, and multiple award presenters were all African-American, these voices were heard. Feel free to use your voice if you truly feel led to do so. They may not listen, but you won’t know if you don’t try.
  8. (Lastly) Stay Calm: The Academy represents a very small percentage of people. They are people with a VERY loud microphone, but they are still a minority. Thank goodness above all of us is Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Light. Despite all that has happened, God has graced the Catholic Church with ever increasing members as He calls all people to Himself. In the U.S., last year alone, more people joined the Catholic Church through RCIA than all the other denominations combined. I say this not to promote some sense of superiority but to remind us to have peace in our hearts because God’s grace prevails.

To end, it is the responsibility of every Christian to listen when truth is spoken, whether by a priest from a pulpit or a producer from an awards stage. We must always strive for the justice our Savior calls each of us to show, but ultimately our duty is to pray, to love, and to be faithful — the rest we trust to God.

Image: Courtesy Open Road Films

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