One of the biggest ways movies differ from reality lies in their ability to condense years of real-time events into a few hours, heightening the drama and emotion in the process. The makers of the 2015 film Spotlight took advantage of this, creating a gripping movie chronicling the initial part of the Boston Globe's 2002 investigation of the Catholic church. The articles written by the Spotlight team won a Pulitzer Prize and sparked global outrage and further investigations into sexual abuse within the church. While the film recreates the story pretty faithfully, it takes a few liberties to make scenes featuring conversations and research more interesting to watch.
The Boston Globe Spotlight stories provided the first big examination of sexual abuse within the Catholic church, a global coverup that remains one of the most unforgivable things the church has done. The Spotlight movie follows the early work of the team, and many people praised the film for accurately capturing the lives and working process of investigative journalists. However, even though Spotlight is based on a true story, it's not a documentary. By focusing on a few key players in the early part of the scandal, the film took a narrow focus and therefore left some information out. Despite the things it got wrong, Spotlight became an Oscar-winning film.
Although he admitted to not yet having seen Spotlight, attorney Eric MacLeish voiced both his approval and criticism on Facebook shortly after the film's release in 2015. He understood the importance of the story and recommended people go see it, but also had reservations about his portrayal. Played by Billy Crudup, the real MacLeish won hundreds of settlements against Boston's Catholic church for survivors of sexual abuse but in doing so, forced them to agree to remain quiet.
However, many of the survivors wanted their experiences not be made public due to shame or fear of retribution, something Spotlight fails to mention. The film includes the fact that MacLeish previously approached the Globe with evidence of the abuse only to be ignored, but the real MacLeish disapproved of the film placing him on the side of the coverup without a complete explanation. He also took offense to the film alleging he was uncooperative, only wanted large sums of money for his clients, and never cared the story would remain secret from the public.
As the film portrays, newly appointed "outsider" editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) inspires the Spotlight team to further investigate the claims of sexual abuse by priests. Also like the movie, Baron suggested the topic on his very first day of work at the Boston Globe. That a case against one priest had been sealed by the court interested him. Baron, who is Jewish, claimed religion held no sway in his decision, once telling a lecture audience, "When I got to Boston and when I got to the Globe I was just looking for good stories. To me this was just an interesting story."
Baron's push to break the story also helped it turn from a few reports of alleged molestation by 12 priests into an in-depth investigation of the entire archdiocese. His decision to take on a bigger target and dive into the reporting helped give the story a larger impact. In addition to raising awareness of the scandal, Spotlight's story reached survivors, helped them realize they weren't alone, and led many more to come forward with their stories.
In the movie, Jack Dunn and other officials of Boston College High School meet with members of the Spotlight team to discuss what they knew about the abuse. In real life, Dunn speaks on behalf of Boston College as its Director of Public Affairs and serves on Boston College High School's board of trustees.
The real Dunn became so upset at his portrayal in the film that he left the movie theater to throw up outside. Although the filmmakers included a fabricated character in the scene who could have acted as an antagonist, the writers twisted reality by siding Dunn's character with the Catholic church, a representation Dunn claimed to be false.
He further said the director never informed him his character would appear in the movie, and that his character's apparent indifference to the victims appalled him and did not reflect the school's efforts towards solving the problem at the time. Dunn threatened to sue the film company if the scene was not removed, and ultimately won a settlement.
Boston Globe reporter Steve Kurkjian makes an appearance in the film, but his character speaks against the Spotlight team, insisting the story isn't significant. In reality, he held no such opinion and joined the Spotlight team after the events depicted in the movie, greatly helping their reporting. Many people suggest Kurkjian's work proved essential to the team winning a Pulitzer Prize in 2003.
Not only did the film downplay Kurkjian's contribution, but it largely ignored other reporters because the film only shows when the story breaks, not the reporting that continued afterward. Kevin Cullen, Michael Paulson, and Tom Farragher all later joined Spotlight and made significant additions to the reports.