The College Admissions Scandal: the movie?

Hira Baig, Features Editor

On March 12, 2019, federal investigators released charges on 51 wealthy parents paying for their kids to get into highly selective colleges. This operation was dubbed Operation Varsity Blues. Response to the allegations was immense: the public was outraged, and news coverage on the subject went on for weeks. But one TV channel, Lifetime, creator of well-known shows Dance Moms and Little Women, took a different approach to the National new story: they decided to make a movie.

The College Admissions Scandal (2019), directed by Adam Sally, follows two wealthy mothers, Bethany Slade (Mia Kirshner) and Caroline DeVere (Penelope Ann Miller), who get caught up in the world of college admissions fraud, obsessed with getting their two kids into the best colleges. The events in the movie lined up closely to real-life news coverage, and took a chilling approach to events that were still being discovered in real-time.

The two mothers’ descent into the world of manipulation contradict each other and shed light on the different motivations that such a complicated crime has. At the root of it all, both mothers wanted the best for their children, at the same time being captivated by the allures of prestige.

Bethany Slade immediately jumped on the bandwagon when she heard about a way to cheat her daughter’s way into Yale. She told her daughter that it was what was best for her, and her daughter participated in photoshoots and willingly falsified SATs. Caroline DeVere, on the other hand, chose to keep it a secret from her son. At first, she pushed back against committing college-admission fraud, but stress and her son’s pushback on academics forced her to do what she thought was the only way to secure her son’s livelihood. The son was kept in the dark, proctors were bribed, and editors were paid to change test scores and Photoshop images.

When the inevitable admissions scandal breaks loose on television, the audience is left conflicted on how to feel. Even the family that had both the parent and the child intentionally committing fraud was a family that was both hated and, at the same time, sympathized with. Simultaneously conflicting emotions turned the movie into more than just a reiteration of real life. We know that what the mothers did was wrong, but the aftermath of the consequences still causes us to feel upset.

Certain moments give us exactly what we’re expecting when deciding to watch a movie about wealthy people using their money. Bethany Slade even justifies her fraud by saying,

“What parent of a brilliant minority child wouldn’t take every advantage they can? I’ve read about minority kids who’ve been accepted into Ivy League schools with SATs 200 points lower than yours…They have their advantages, and we have ours.”

Photo courtesy of Lifetime

Others aren’t so easy to quickly denounce with disgust. When Caroline DeVere gets caught and has to explain to her actions to her son, she proclaimed that everything she did was wrong, and that she would spend the rest of her life fixing this and atoning for this sin. She fully understood the problems with her actions, and does her best to recover. There’s a heaviness to the scenes and shows the consequences of “doing everything you can” for your child, even if in his best interest.

As a high schooler, I felt for the families and was even wishing at times that the children got away unscathed. The more I felt bad, the more I questioned my own moral integrity. The movie isn’t a quick fun show to make fun of or yell at; it carries a deeper message and questions such as what actually defines a meritocracy and what do we need to change as a society and a schooling system.