“Continuing my walk I reflected that a Church which could inspire such confidence in a child, making its priests, even when unknown, so easily approachable could not be as scheming and creepy as so often made out. I began to shake off my long-taught, long-absorbed prejudices.”
— Alec Guinness, Blessings in Disguise, referring to an incident during filming of The Detective (1954)
The recent film Spotlight should be commended for featuring the Boston Globe’s storied investigative team and their Pulitzer Prize winning reporting that, as Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, said in a late October statement to the Pilot, forced the church “to deal with what was shameful and hidden.”
Directed by Tom McCarthy, who also wrote the screenplay with Josh Singer, the film stars some of Hollywood’s brightest lights — Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, Brian D’Arcy, Liev Schreiber, and Billy Crudup — and has solid production values. Just ask the National Society of Film Critics, who recently chose it for best picture of 2015, as well as best screenplay.
But Spotlight doesn’t get everything right.
The Church, the film posits, is institutionally flawed. Priests cannot possibly live a celibate life. Therefore, until the church reforms its rule requiring priestly celibacy, it will continue to have problems and lose adherents, including, notably, the reporter Sacha Pfeiffer, played by McAdams, whose faith, in contrast to that of her beloved grandmother, crumbles before our eyes; or in the case of Mike Rezendes, the lead reporter on the case, whose faith continues to lie fallow.
Yet, in his statement to the archdiocesan paper, O’Malley also said, “The Archdiocese of Boston is fully and completely committed to zero tolerance concerning the abuse of minors. We follow a vigorous policy of reporting and disclosing information concerning allegations of abuse.”
Would that Hollywood would adhere to the same strict rules when it comes to its own pedophiles which, in its case, are not just a small fraction but rather omnipresent.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but Hollywood’s own institutional child abuse scandal dwarfs by orders of magnitude that in the Church. Even child actress Shirley Temple was sexually abused by producer Arthur Freed when she was 12, according to her 1988 autobiography, Child Star.
The Church, for its part, has adopted “zero tolerance” in the wake of this “very painful time,” as Cardinal O’Malley characterizes it. A time that has a context, coming in the wake of the psychedelic, sexually libertine, draft-dodging sixties when “Make Love Not War” and “Sex, Drugs & Rock and Roll” ruled, leading riotous youth who preferred pot and sex over Vietnam, to closet themselves away in the seminary, some of whom later preyed on children, which the church finally cracked down on.
In contrast, Hollywood’s handling of its own scandal is seriously wanting as revealed in An Open Secret (2014), released on June 26, 2015, which documents rampant pedophilia in the film industry.
Not surprisingly, this bombshell of a documentary tanked at the box office—registering such negligible sales that its distributor, Rocky Mountain Pictures based in Salt Lake City, did not even bother releasing the numbers. They must have been rock bottom — below even its film, Christian Mingle (2014), which garnered $20K in sales. The tally for An Open Secret, the distributors said, was the lowest they had seen in 26 years in business. Mind you, they know how to ring up the cash registers. They distributed Dinesh D’Souza’s mega-hit 2016: Obama’s America, grossing $33 million in sales. Meanwhile, the producers fingered director Amy Berg, contending she did not want to get out there and promote it.
While Open Secret was piously trumpeted by the major Hollywood media outlets —“Shocking” – Ronnie Scheib, Variety; “Devastating” – Rodrigo Perez, Playlist; “Bold and incendiary” – John DeFore, Hollywood Reporter — the clear missing link in the film’s failure is Hollywood’s hypocrisy in wanting to maintain the prerogatives of power by ignoring its child molestation scandal like a child who blots out the sun with his finger believing it has disappeared. No such luck. The picture presented in Open Secret, one interviewee said, is “the tip of the iceberg.”
The Church is the only one whose sins Hollywood cares to reveal. Clearly, a case of psychological projection!
For its penance — which must include a purpose of amendment and its own zero tolerance policy — Hollywood should begin portraying the Church in a refreshingly fuller and justly positive light as it did during the “Golden Age of Film” with classics like San Francisco (1936) and Boys Town (1938), starring Spencer Tracy; Going My Way (1944) and The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945), starring Bing Crosby. Which rang up huge profits, by the way!
The priests I write about in Oasis: Conversion Stories of Hollywood Legends, just like those in the aforementioned films, would make ideal models.
Lighting a candle, instead of cursing the darkness, would surely have a salutary effect on Hollywood.