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HomeEntertainmentScout’s Honor movie review: Difficult-to-watch Netflix documentary inspires outrage

Scout’s Honor movie review: Difficult-to-watch Netflix documentary inspires outrage

The new Netflix documentary Scout’s Honor: The Secret Files of the Boy Scouts of America makes the common stylistic mistake of favouring scandal over sympathy, but even shortcomings such as this can’t get in the way of what is ultimately a stirring story of human bravery. A 90-minute expose of the Boy Scouts of America organisation’s history of child sex abuse, the movie combines firsthand recollections of the survivors, a whistleblower’s testimony, and commentary by journalists to present a well-researched account of terrible crimes and the cover-up that followed.

Director Brian Knappenberger’s last two projects — Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press, and The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez — sort of capture the duality of Scout’s Honor as both a call to action and a tribute to the resilience and courage of survivors. The result is a bit of a tonal mishmash that can often feel a little exploitative, but also rather moving.

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Much of it is told through the perspective of an ex-detective named Michael Johnson, who was hired by the Boy Scouts — an organisation dating back to 1908 — to ensure that the thousands of children in its care remain safe. The BSA had reason to be concerned; the organisation has had a history of abuse dating back to its beginnings. In fact, the BSA was always aware that it was attracting paedophiles, and in an effort to protect its interests, had devised something known as the ‘Ineligible Volunteer Files’ — essentially a directory of monstrous men barred from participating in the program. Rather chillingly, this blacklist was internally known as the ‘Perversion Files’.

The BSA didn’t disclose this information to parents or law enforcement, and eventually, the ‘Perversion Files’ served as evidence of its own mismanagement. Unlike the more empathetic documentaries Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, Twist of Faith, and Deliver Us from Evil, Scout’s Honor has what can only be described as a Netflix sheen. It is also edited in that glossy, algorithm-approved manner that viewers of the streamer’s true crime dramas would be accustomed to. The movie is slick where it needed to be sober.

But there are moments of insight, such as the connection Knappenberger draws between the BSA and religious organisations with their own history of child sex abuse and systemic bigotry. The Mormons and the Catholics have foundational similarities to the Scouts, the film suggests, as it makes an overarching observation about the abuse of power inside cult-like organisations. The BSA, for instance, used similar tactics as the Catholic Church to avoid prosecution; it conducted internal investigations after which abusers found to be guilty were moved from one community to another. They remained unpunished, and their crimes were left unaddressed.

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Johnson, the whistleblower who devoted his life to exposing the organisation’s alleged cover-ups, reveals how the BSA not only failed to take appropriate precautions to safeguard children — like checking the identification of potential ‘scoutmasters’ — it actively avoided doing this. “Inconvenience and cost,” were the reasons he was given. And this was after the organisation became aware of the internal rot.

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It’s all rather upsetting, of course, and needless to say, the film isn’t suitable for vulnerable audiences. Discretion is advised. But as uncomfortable as it is to watch the firsthand accounts, these scenes are also a testament to the survivors’ courage. Their stories are so remarkably similar to each other, but the events they describe remain impossible to comprehend. Changes have been introduced, a former employee of the BSA says — the organisation now accepts queer kids, as well as girls; how amazing — but it is difficult to understand how an organisation that overlooked the abuse of over 80,000 children is still being allowed to operate.

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Scout’s Honor: The Secret Files of the Boy Scouts of AmericaDirector – Brian KnappenbergerRating – 3.5/5

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