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I just finished watching The Keepers on Netflix last night. I don't often watch true crime shows, because there's something exploitative about most of them that I can't stomach. But (CW, more in subsequent tweets) The Keepers is amazing.
So, CW: murder, sexual abuse of children--honestly, what I can only really call torture, religious abuse, gaslighting. The abuse one of the survivors describes is so horrific as to beggar belief. Be forewarned.
Here's a summary and review from the NYT: nytimes.com/2017/05/18/art…
The big surprise is that it plays more like Spotlight than its true-crime brethren like Making of a Murderer.
But what I want to talk about are four thoughts I came away with.
1) This documentary is kind of a gold standard, I think, for respectful treatment of abuse survivors, letting them tell their stories, and doing so in a way that seems as non-exploitative as possible.
I mean, it has a few cinematic flourishes--the music is sparse, gorgeous, and effective, and there are moments of reenactment interspersed with on-camera interviews.
But those nods to true-crime conventions are SO sparse that they seem to be there more to give the audience breathing room from the stark, unornamented horror of the retelling than to enhance or sensationalize it.
And they're only there for the retelling by the survivor who suffered the most horrific abuse. It almost seems like they're there not just to make it bearable enough for the audience to get through it, but to protect her dignity.
The camera cuts to the back of a teenage girl's head, or to a statue in the church, as she recounts the worst parts, letting us hear her but not stare at her.
It's strange to see a true-crime technique that's usually used to amp up the drama used in this case to diffuse it, but it's wielded with what seems like compassion for both the survivor and the audience.
2) When I compared The Keepers to Spotlight, it was because both are essentially riveting tales of investigative journalism. The difference is the protagonists of The Keepers aren't trained journalists. They're retirees, for the most part.
This series centers the voices of older women more than almost anything on TV right now. And it's a powerful reminder that older women get shit done when they're motivated.
There's something heartbreakingly pure about it because the backstory is that these women's beloved teacher was murdered, and half a century later, they still love her enough to devote themselves wholly to justice for her.
(Spoiler) They don't end up solving her murder. But they do end up bringing to light horrific abuse that was happening at their school. There's not a lot of closure. The lawsuit goes nowhere. The Catholic Church, as always, manages to get away with minimizing it.
3) What the fuck is UP with this weird Catholic thing with perverting their own rituals? This is like the 19th account of abuse by priests I've heard where they made coercive oral sex into a parody of receiving communion.
You hear about this at the hands of one abusive priest, you're like, "Oh, that guy, in addition to being an abusive pedophile, had like this weird Catholic ritual fetish." But at some point it's like, what the fuck is up with this running theme in these priest abuse cases?
And, I mean, it's not just abusive priests. It's there in the Catholic imagination of what witchcraft is, like everyone takes some sort of fetishistic delight in replicating Catholic ritual. It's BIZARRE and I'm not sure how to unpack it, but there's something odd going on there.
4) The biggest question I came away with was the same one I constantly come away with after learning about the lengths companies, conventions, and people go to to protect abusers in entertainment: WHY?
Like, okay, I can understand--not condone--but UNDERSTAND the reaction of wanting to cover up that a priest abused children. The Church doesn't want to look bad. But what baffles me is why they kept putting these priests back in positions where they worked with kids.
Like, you find out your employee abused kids. If you're a decent person, you turn him over to the police. But okay, you're 100% invested in the Church, so you don't want to do that. You're a bad person but I can wrap my head around the temptation to keep it quiet.
But if you're a corrupt Church official, presumably then you shuffle him off to quiet retirement somewhere where he WON'T be around kids. Why on EARTH would you do anything that allows him to keep harming people?
I just can't fathom WHY. And so I come back to the question that I keep asking every time it comes out how far people have gone to not just protect abusers from consequences, but to CONTINUE TO ENABLE THEM TO DO HARM. Why? There are a million discreet ways to halt the harm.
I'm incredulous at the lengths people go to to protect them from consequences--like, what exactly makes these men so valuable that people are willing to sacrifice so much (money, time, and people's wellbeing and safety) to keep them where they are?
None of them are doing anything someone else couldn't do. Why risk so much to keep them in power?
And unfortunately, that's something no documentary seems to be able to answer.
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