Oscars 2016: Read about the Pulitzer prize-winning journalism that got 'Spotlight' best film award

Swetha Ramakrishnan

Mar,01 2016 10:05:27 IST

Only an investigative journalism team could carry out a report like the one documented in the Oscar winning film Spotlight. It requires patience, authenticity and people skills that may be lost to the generation of breaking news.

Spotlight is a story about a team of investigative journalists from The Boston Globe — over months, they dug around for information about a child sex abuse racket involving pedophile priests who were backed by the Church and lawyers (through a systemic encouragement of the abuse, by settling cases out of court, sealing the records and maintaining absolute silence on the issue).

Perhaps, the most poignant scenes in Spotlight are a succession of shots showing the reporters compulsively fact checking their research for the Pulitzer prize winning campaign in 2001. A quick web search on the real Spotlight team will show you that the actors who play their parts (which includes Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams and Brian d'Arcy James) are cast so aptly that they have the mannerisms of the original reporters down to the most minute detail. 


From left to right: Michael Keaton, Liev Schreiber, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, Brian d'Arcy James. Image from Facebook.

And there in lies the best part about Spotlight; it doesn't glamourise journalism but makes you curious about how (and the different kinds of ways in which) it works. And so, here is all you need to know about the original Spotlight team and the case which put them on the map:

The Spotlight Team

Mark Ruffalo plays Michael Rezendes, one of the chief reporters in the Spotlight team, and probably one of the most passionately involved of the lot. In this Boston Globe piece about the reporters, Rezendes says about Ruffalo, "Mark’s research never seemed to stop." Rezendes is also the only member from the originals that is still with Boston Globe's Spotlight team.

Rachel McAdams plays Sacha Pfeiffer, one of the most on-ground reporters on the team. Meticulous to detail, Pfeiffer (as portrayed by Adams) seems to be the most people-friendly team member, who could effortlessly speak to the sex abuse victims without making them feel uncomfortable. "Rachel has asked me how long I kept my fingernails. What size Post-it Notes I preferred," said Pfeiffer, in the above piece.'

Michael Keaton plays Walter V. Robinson, the Spotlight team leader for 7 years, and is currently the Globe's editor at large. To have Michael play you in a movie must have been a daunting experience, and Robinson reveals just that, "My persona has been hijacked. If Michael Keaton robbed a bank, the police would quickly have me in handcuffs."

Liev Schreiber plays Marty Baron, the editor-in-chief who first finds out about this case and chases his team to dig around more about it. Baron now works for the Washington Post. On the Spotlight movie experience, in this opinion piece for WP, he writes, "The movie has been nominated for six Oscars, including best picture. And, journalistic objectivity be damned, I’m hoping it wins the entire lot. I feel indebted to everyone who made a film that captures, with uncanny authenticity, how journalism is practiced and, with understated force, why it’s needed."

John Slattery plays Ben Bradlee Jr, the Assistant Managing Editor of the team, and aptly portrays the corporate-journalistic balance that any managing editor would face at a newspaper. And finally, Brian d'Arcy James plays Matt Carroll, a fellow reporter with the team, incharge of the numbers and stats that run their investigation.

The case

On January 6, 2002, the Spotlight team at the Boston Globe published an investigative piece about a child sexual abuse racket in Boston, that was sparked off by victims of the abuse carried out by former priest John J. Geoghan (close to 130 children came out to talk about it to the team). The piece, titled 'Church allowed abuse by priest for years' not just revealed the fact that abuse has occured, but also how the Church and law enforcements had kept quiet about it.

Producers Nicole Rocklin and Blye Faust first showed interest in this story, and then decided that they didn't want to make a film on the scandal itself, but more about how the journalists involved came about it.

In this Boston Globe piece about how the story got made into Spotlight, it is revealed how the film wanted to focus on the larger picture. "Through their research and interviews, it became clear that the story wasn’t just about reporters who unearthed a scandal. Rather, it was about an entire community that became complicit — from law enforcement to parents of victims to the newspaper itself."

Since the report came out in 2002, the news has spread to more than 100 cities in the US, and a 100 more across the world. Close to 250 priests have been accuses of abuse in this time, and The Boston Globe has written 600 stories on this scandal alone, reveals Michael Rezendes himself, in this report.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. As the end credits of Spotlight reveals, the investigations are still going strong.

Updated Date: Mar 01, 2016 10:10 AM