I just watched, in flight, Spotlight, which was recently awarded Best Picture at the Academy Awards. It recreates the journalistic efforts by Spotlight - the Boston Globe’s small but diligent investigative team, which uncovered a massive scandal of child molestation and the cover-up by the Catholic church despite a city-wide hesitation to tell/know the whole story, including the tight-lipped lawyers who defended the church, reluctant victims, and even the Boston Globe itself. What started with the knowledge of one sexually abusive priest grew to 13, then 87 during the investigation.
In 2002, the Spotlight team published nearly 600 stories about the scandal and set up a hotline to receive calls from other victims, who are estimated to be upward of 1,000 people. Eventually, 249 priests and brothers were publicly accused of sexual abuse within the Boston Archdiocese. These stats are listed in the credits, along with 102 archdioceses around the United States and 101 around the world where scandals of other major sexual abuse of minors were uncovered. The cast is an ensemble of decent actors who pulled together nicely to make an excellent film that harnesses the energy of the pursuit of a news story and the multitude of obstacles that must be overcome. More importantly, it reaffirms that the need for good journalism and truthful writing is crucial for a transparent and democratic society.
A couple days ago I watched Je Suis Charlie, a documentary about the 2015 storming of the Charlie Hedbro headquarters in Paris by fundamentalists who massacred 11 staff in retaliation to the paper’s publishing of numerous cartoons that poked fun (often vulgarly) at the prophet Mohammed. After the attack I wrote a post that tried to balance freedom of speech with good editorial review, basically saying that the cartoons had crossed a line into hate speech. This documentary makes me think a little differently now, less prudent about that point. It is made up almost entirely of intimate interviews with the slain cartoonists’ coworkers, who were often, typically, their closest friends.
The attack at Charlie Hedbo led to a world-wide rally Je Suis Charlie, to honor the lives of the cartoonists and confirm the need for freedom of speech. Despite the outpouring of support, and an unheard of spikes in publication sales, the newspaper is protected by armed guards. The question is then raised, how free is the freedom of speech now that it must be guarded by men with automatic rifles. The greatest concern expressed is that perhaps the young journalists will not take on more difficult topics because they do not want to stir the pot too much.
And finally, the third production I want to mention in this same breath of journalism is the documentary about one of the greatest American street photographers, Vivian Maier, who took more than 150,000 photos, developed very few of them, showed hardly any to anyone, and died in obscurity after working as a nanny her whole life. Finding Vivian Maier is documentary by John Maloof about this intriguing person. Kudos to Maloof for his obsessive multi-media investigation into her photography and life, which discovered her talent, and pieced together a rich and complicated person from boxes of letters, receipts, personal belongings, and interviews with the families that employed her.