When director Tom McCarthy made the Oscar-nominated Spotlight about the Boston Globe’s revelatory reporting on a worldwide cover-up of sex abuse by the Catholic Church, he never thought the film would end up screening at the Vatican. But that’s just what happened this past Thursday.
“We just sort of found out about it,” McCarthy told The Daily Beast before an event honoring his film’s ensemble cast at the Santa Barbara Film Festival Saturday night. “You can’t really push anything on the Vatican, as you can imagine,” he added, saying that it was all of a sudden “leaked to us through Rome that this was probably happening.”
The unprecedented screening kicked off a three-day meeting by the Vatican “commission for the protection of minors,” a group put together with Pope Francis’s approval more than two years ago. No members of the press were present for the screening, but it has been reported that the pope was not in attendance.
“Just the fact that they are screening it for that particular council is exciting and we were thrilled to feel like we played some small part in all this,” McCarthy said. “I would have paid a lot of money to be in that room,” he said, adding that he wished the Church had invited him to participate in the type of Q&A sessions he has been doing all over the Los Angeles area this awards season.
What would he have told them had he gotten the chance to attend? “I wouldn’t have said much,” McCarthy told us. “I think I would have listened more. I would have been very curious as to the questions they asked, and really would have just been excited to be part of the discussion, which I think is important.”
Spotlight star Michael Keaton, also on hand in Santa Barbara to accept the award, said he had just found out about the screening and that no one on the team has heard how it was received.
“Personally, I’d love to see if they look at it and they go, ‘We’ve got to be transparent about this stuff,’” Keaton said of the Vatican’s reaction. “You have to get to the root of the problem and I would love to see even bigger changes at the Catholic Church. In regards to just this issue, I hope they do something about it and I hope they go after the guilty, of which there are many.”
Similarly, Rachel McAdams, who is nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Globe reporter Sacha Pfeiffer, called the Vatican screening “an incredible move forward,“ but she recognizes there is a lot more work to be done. “I was really excited to hear that it has gotten inside the Vatican,” she said of the film, “I hope the Pope will see it,” she added with a laugh. “That’s the next step.”
Despite efforts by Pope Francis and the Catholic Church to at least acknowledge the breadth of the sex abuse scandal, they have come under fire from critics who believe they are not sincere about eradicating the problem.
While the Vatican’s Spotlight screening may do only so much for that ongoing process, it could have more immediate effects on a far more trivial one in this country: the Oscar race. Spotlight is currently locked in what appears to be a two-film race for Best Picture with another movie that is based on a true story and set in the recent past: The Big Short.
Spotlight, which has six Oscar nominations, has taken home bellwether prizes like the SAG Award for its ensemble cast, while The Big Short, which has five, cleaned up at the PGA Awards. Both McCarthy and The Big Short’s Adam McKay are up for the top prize at tonight’s DGA Awards, though that trophy could just as easily go to The Revenant’s Alejandro González Iñárritu or Mad Max: Fury Road’s George Miller.
The Vatican screening and the attention it’s gotten could remind Oscar voters just how “important” a film Spotlight is, to use McCarthy’s word. “I think it speaks to the mindset and hopefully the power of the film,” the director said, without mentioning the awards specifically.
“If this movie can, in some small way, make clear the impact of this terrible crime that has been visited on so many unfortunate souls,” McCarthy concluded, before heading into the awards ceremony, “then that is great thing.”