Michael Keaton Believes Investigative Journalism Could Have Helped Prevent Flint’s Water Crisis

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Micheal Keaton

The Oscar-nominated actor also believes #OscarsSoWhite is part of a much bigger debate.

While on a European promotional tour for his film Spotlight, Michael Keaton made a stop in Rome to meet with Italian journalists to discuss the movie, which is up for six Academy Awards, including best picture.

Spotlight details the true-life story of the Boston Globe team that brought to light how the Catholic Church covered up hundreds of cases of child abuse throughout the city. The case led the way for other cities to follow suit, revealing deeply embedded crimes that permeated the Church on a global scale. Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber and Stanley Tucci also star.

“The result is a really, really good film that will arguably change lives,” said Keaton. He recounted a story where a man came up to him after a screening and opened up about his own abuse for the first time.

The actor, who plays a journalist for the third time in his career, said he was honored to interpret the role of a reporter again. He hoped the film would draw attention to the need for investigative journalism and be used as an example for the current water crisis in Flint, Mich.

“In the city where I was born, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the city section [of the newspaper] is down to six pages," said Keaton. "They don’t really have investigative work. Recently in Flint, Michigan, the polluted water crisis there has kids who now have severe learning disabilities. The amount of kids in a particular school district that have learning disabilities has doubled in one year because of the lead in the water.

“So one of the people who has been telling this story says that this is the situation in many, many cities, Erin Brockovich. She says that there are probably 100 cities," added Keaton. "Pittsburgh is one of them, which is not a shock to me. But if there was a strong investigative team, it’s not a stretch of the imagination to say that possibly that you could be on top of that."

He continued: “There’s a prime example. If there’s an investigative team and you’re on top of it, it’s not at all inconceivable that it could have been stopped and some kids, not to mention some adults, may not have to suffer long-term brain defects. And there’s no guarantee that is happening in Pittsburgh, but it’s very, very possible, as well as in 100 other cities.”

Said Boston Globe editor Walter Robinson: “The Internet has stripped newspapers of the money they need to do investigative journalism. So many jobs have been lost. Someone has to hold powerful officials and institutions, institutions like the Catholic Church, accountable for what they do. And if not us, who? And if we don’t do it, democracy dies, because people cannot make informed decisions without good reporting.”

Keaton also weighed in on the current debate about why for the second year in a row all the best acting nominations are white. “The issue is so much bigger than just this particular thing about the Oscars," he said. "It’s a much, much bigger issue to be discussed. It’s on one hand a very complex issue and on the other hand it’s quite simple. Things are either fair or they’re not fair.”

He continued: “I have to really think about this, how it’s determined, who gets what. That seems kind of silly — who’s the best, who’s not the best. The system inside, if you consider the background of the voters, something has to be done about the system, I suppose. But most importantly, much, much more importantly in America and in the world, when you look at anti-Semitism in France and the other parts of the world, or race in America, that’s something that has to be dealt with more and more and more and more. For me, it’s one of the more important issues in my country.”

The actor ended by saying that awards season is the time of year when “your ego starts to tell you, ‘I’m so important,’” but it’s essential for him to remember that it’s not about the compliments or fanfare. “What I do is important,” Keaton said, “because I truly believe that art is important.”