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Spotlight is a small-budget independent film about the Boston Globe’s 2002 exposé of sexual abuse of children and young teenagers by Catholic priests, and the distressing, chronic failure of the Church hierarchy to deal responsibly with the problem. The film took eight years to make, and just two years ago, its prospects looked dim. In a 2013 industry poll, over 250 film executives were asked to vote for the “best unproduced screenplays,” and Spotlight received only eight votes.
Today Spotlight is a hit. In its first 12 weeks the film earned $8.5 million over the cost of production (about $20 million). It is also a critics’ darling and nominee for Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards. This success is surprising, given that if you were to pick this movie from a list of titles on your favorite streaming service, you might think it was made decades ago. As Variety noted, Spotlight is a “throwback,” whose “production…evokes filmmaking of another era,” and whose “story is notable for eschewing the building blocks of today’s most popular movies—CGI pyrotechnics, comic-book superheroes, sex and violence.”
Another throwback is the genre to which Spotlight belongs: the whistleblower drama, in which a seemingly powerless
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