“Spotlight,” which chronicles The Boston Globe’s investigation into sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and institutional efforts to cover up the crimes, landed the Oscar for best picture Sunday — a surprise win.
The journalism drama, which boasts a star-studded ensemble cast including Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams, is based on a series of stories by the real “Spotlight” team that earned the paper a Pulitzer Prize in 2003.
“This film gave a voice to survivors. And this Oscar amplifies that voice, which we hope will become a choir that will resonate all the way to the Vatican,” co-producer Michael Sugar told the audience at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.
“Pope Francis, it’s time to protect the children and restore the faith,” he said.
“Spotlight” was instantly tipped as a contender for glory at the 88th Oscars from its world premiere in September. The film also took home honors for best original screenplay, after earning a total of six nominations.
Some observers felt it had peaked too soon when it failed to pick up any Golden Globes, but it has since been garlanded with top prizes including the acting ensemble trophy at the Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Critics praised its graceful handling of its lurid subject matter.
The film website Rotten Tomatoes hailed the makers of “Spotlight” for resisting “the temptation to lionize its heroes,” resulting in a drama that “honors the audience as well as its real-life subjects.”
Tom McCarthy, who was nominated for a best director Oscar, and co-writer Josh Singer were reported to have spent years researching.
Singer paid tribute to abuse survivor Phil Saviano as he picked up the prize for best original screenplay at the Writers Guild Awards earlier in February.
“He’d been trying to tell his story for a very long time and I think that story is finally now being told and needs to continue to be told,” Singer said.
As well as being a study of institutional child abuse, “Spotlight” continues a grand tradition of movies celebrating investigative journalism exemplified by “All the President’s Men,” which told the story of The Washington Post’s investigation into the Watergate scandal.
McCarthy told journalists at the film’s Paris premiere in January he wanted to highlight that, in an industry hit by declining sales and pressure on budgets, old-fashioned investigative journalism was becoming a rare luxury.
McAdams paid tribute to her character Sacha Pfeiffer, the only woman on the real-life “Spotlight” team, at an Oscars nominees luncheon in Beverly Hills earlier this month.
“I feel so lucky that I got to play her. That’s the thing — she made a great role. She is a great role model. So that I just got to step into those shoes, I owe this nomination to her entirely,” she said.
“I hope that we continue to tell the stories of great women out there. She’s a real unsung hero.”
McCarthy has spoken of meeting McAdams for “cheeseburgers and martinis” in her hometown of Toronto during the casting process.
“We just talked about character and themes and movies we really were into,” he told fellow filmmakers at the Directors Guild of America awards earlier in February.
“We both rode our bikes to that meeting and it was late at night when we finished and she said, ‘I’ll guide you home’, and I was like ‘great.’
“And I’m pedaling behind her thinking this is all great and she got to a fork and she said, ‘You go that way’ and she disappeared into the night. I was riding around Toronto drunk and on my bike for another hour.”