Donna Heinel, who used to be the highest-ranked woman in the athletics department at the University of Southern California, was roped into Rick Singer’s scam. As of many other clients that Singer convinced to associate with him, she was fired and charged with several accounts of fraud. (Photo Courtesy of Public Domain)
The Netflix documentary-drama Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal sheds light on the college admissions scandal orchestrated by Rick Singer.
Singer is the guy behind the blockbuster scam where Felicity Huffman, Lori Loughlin, and many heavily wealthy CEOs bribed universities to get their kids in the door of big-name colleges — and did some time in the slammer for it.
There are few ways that colleges accept students. The most common is to go through the “front door” by studying hard, earning good grades, participating in extracurriculars, and acing standardized testing. There is also traveling through the “back door” — which is achieved by having rich parents who write 8 figure checks as a “donation” to grease the wheels of admissions.
Singer created a new entrance into college, calling it the “side door” entrance. He could guarantee admission, and it would cost less. He would hand a modest bribe to a sports coach or athletic director and get the kid in the school as an athlete in a smaller sport, like sailing or water polo. The kid did not have to be at all athletic; Singer would doctor photos to make them look like they knew what they were doing.
The topic of the documentary is fascinating and perfect for a film. Yet because of the unwillingness of Singer and his clients to speak on camera, the film leans heavily on reenactments in which Matthew Modine plays Singer. Without the interviews, there is an unavoidable hole in the film that the reenactments can only partially fill. At points, the reenactments became a tad distracting and took attention away from the main particulars of the case.
Overall, the cinematography was incredibly compelling. The drama of the interviews and reenactments made it easy for the audience to stay engaged. The layout of the scenes created depth as they transferred from story to specific parts of the case. The documentary ultimately provided first-rate entertainment.
Most of all, the film’s success lies in the way it captured that this is not a case about an individual or the many parents who cheated the system, but how the system itself is deeply broken. As a teenager, there is always stress placed on us to make it to a great college and have a successful career. This film brings awareness to the fragmented college system many students fall afoul to.
Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal, provided a look into the corrupt ways of college, extreme parent-student sacrifices, and controversies of the upper class. I believe many would find this an interesting watch, as I did, for it related to high school students and captivated me through story and film-making.