UPDATE, 8:14 AM: Philomena might well be the underdog in the Best Picture Oscar race, but its subject continues to make the most of her moment to stump for transparency in unlocking records for the estimated 60,000 forced adoptions of wedlock babies that were supervised by churches in Ireland and the UK. Late last month, she spoke on Capitol Hill. Today, Philomena Lee (played in the film by Judi Dench) the charity Lee launched late last week in Dublin in concert with the ARA. took to the Vatican and met with Pope Francis to urge him to change the system that led to her being separated from her son. As the film depicts, she was repeatedly lied to by the nuns at the abbey where she gave birth, nuns who felt little empathy for a sheltered teen who got pregnant out of wedlock. A print of the movie was delivered to the Vatican to be screened today, though it was unclear whether the Pope will have time to see it. If there was one Pope, though, where this might make a difference, it is Pope Francis, who has exhibited compassion and empathy toward same sex couples, challenging long held institutional bias against them. Harvey Weinstein, by the way, was not among the contingent at the Vatican; he wasn’t involved in setting the meeting. That was done by Lee’s new foundation. Weinstein is en route to Berlin.
As for the film, Philomena will broaden its run to 2500 screens by Valentine’s Day, which, not coincidentally is the day that ballots start being filled out for the Academy Awards. Considering the number of times that Weinstein has been vilified by the church for films that covered subjects like sexual abuse by priests, seeing one of TWC’s films screened at the Vatican is fairly remarkable, even if Weinstein didn’t set it up.
PREVIOUS, JANUARY 30 AM: For most of the Oscar Best Picture nominees, this is an occasion to fatten up film grosses. Philomena, the tiniest film in the race, is certainly doing that. But its subject, Philomena Lee, is using this short soapbox as an opportunity to change legislation in Ireland and the UK to allow access to records from forced adoptions, and raise donations for Adoption Rights Alliance. This is all part of The Philomena Project, Lee has been speaking on Capitol Hill this week about the charity and its goals. They aren’t too lofty: She is seeking greater transparency in accessing records in many forced adoptions, in hopes of reuniting birth mothers with their biological children. She was denied the right to see the records after she, as a naïve teen, got pregnant and gave birth to a son, Anthony. She bonded with the child, only to watch him be sold for adoption to an American family while she “atoned” as a washer woman for several years as repayment for being housed at what were called Magdalene Laundries. If you’ve seen the movie, you know how tragically things turned out for Lee. Lee created the charity with daughter Jane Libberton, who along with journalist Martin Sixsmith helped Lee finally get to the bottom of what happened to her son. This came despite the best efforts of the coven of nuns at the Sean Ross Abbey in Rosecrea who showed zero compassion in their shameful attempt to keep her permanently in the dark.