In 2019, the college admissions scandal in the US became a huge talking point. More so, as it involved well-heeled parents, from Wall Street’s hierarchy to CEOs of myriad business enterprises and A-list actors.
Of course, it registered with me because it named and shamed Felicity Huffman, who is one of my favourite actresses, and Lori Loughlin.
Honestly, I paid little attention to everything else as it was yet another example of white privilege in all its glory.
After all, in SA, we were still feeling the resurging tremors of the #FeesMustFall movement, which started in 2015.
Although those taken down by the Operation Varsity Blues team have felt the wrath of the law, with several successful prosecutions, Netflix’s documentary feature, “Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal”, sheds light on this jaw-dropping true-life saga - but from a narrative different to the media blaze.
William ’Rick’ Singer (played magnificently by Matthew Modine) is at the heart of the focus in this offering. The owner of Key Worldwide Foundation and The Edge College & Career Network (also known as "The Key"), he ran his operation through his business.
This film looks at his get-rich-quick, side door scheme into prominent Ivy League institutions, which saw his name frequently bandied around the most influential of social circles.
While every parent wants the best for their kid, these parents were willing to back it up with a “financial commitment” as some of the kids were average at best.
Applying money to the problem seemed to be the best solution.
And based on the interviews of some of Singer’s former clients, one thing was very clear-cut - he was a shrewd businessman.
He made it clear that there were three ways to get into certain schools.
The front door, which is based on merit. The back door, which entails making a sizeable donation. And then there is his side door option, which involved cheating on college entrance exams and the fabrication of elite sports credentials.
And he even went as far as taking liberties with identifying the ethnicity of the students to give them an advantageous edge.
This meant bribing the exam administrators, coaches and key individuals in the admissions department.
To make it look legit, he ensured the exchange of money was done through a charitable organisation.
The doccie, which also includes comments from kids, captures some of their anxious dispositions over getting into a particular learning institution.
Meanwhile, some parents felt strongly about keeping their kid(s) in the dark over their involvement in them getting-in.
Although the corruption in play between Singer and the parents attracted a lot of attention, it is questionable as to whether the outrage was linked to their action or the fact that it unmasked flaws in the competitive higher education market, where the higher the ranking of an institute, the higher the prestige.
It’s a numbers game. And admissions at a “bargain-basement price” held a certain appeal for parents who wanted bragging rights to their kid getting into prestigious schools.
“Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal” draws attention to the reality that money doesn’t solve the problem - it is the problem when it comprises the future of well-deserving individuals who weren’t born with a silver spoon.
Will the outrage be enough to change a compromised system? That is the question now, isn’t it!
“Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal” is currently streaming on Netflix.