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The Post and uncomfortable truths we can no longer live with

Tre Ventour reviews The Post which will be on small screens soon…

The Post follows Spotlight as another great, modern journalism film. Steven Spielberg’s latest venture discusses freedom, democracy, government lies and whistleblowing, a timely film if there ever was one. However, it’s also an ode to feminism that is as relevant today as it was back in the 1970s, the era in which the film is set.

The Post tells the story of the 1971 battle by American newspapers to publish the leaked Pentagon Papers. These papers showed the US government as war criminals, secretly broadening the scope of US military action in Vietnam, even as those in power were convinced the war was a lost cause.

On the side of the media was Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep). Despite being over fifty at the time, she was still struggling to establish herself in a male-run industry.

This is a woman who even in middle age is still finding her voice. She is in a room with a load of middle-class, white men. She’s been talked-over and made to feel invisible. She has to work twice as hard for half as much. It doesn’t sound too different to being of colour in a white man-run industry. When you are Other, this is the name of the game.

It was Graham who had to give the nod to Editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) to defy an injunction by the Nixon Administration, risking the Washington Post and being sent to jail. This decision not only affected Graham but everyone around her, including her family and the future of the company.

This film is relevant to both women and democracy. When the government is saying what and what cannot be published, freedom of speech is drawn into question. With Emma Watson’s “He for She” campaign and then the recent #MeToo movement, women are still fighting for equality, in: corporate boardrooms, on the streets and even in Hollywood itself.  

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With the Chilcot Inquiry and Panama Leaks, and the shadiness surrounding the Trump Administration and the motivations for instigating the Brexit vote, will governments ever again be trustworthy? When someone says Nixon, I think Watergate. When someone says Big Brother, I think Winston Smith and Nineteen Eighty-Four. Tick words.

But this film seems to be detailing a forgotten part of history, quite modern history that. The 1970s is not a long time ago and it’s great that this story is being told.

Trump’s constant attacks against journalists (and by extension democracy) just makes Spielberg’s films that much more relevant. When the public can’t criticise their “leaders”, that’s when I raise an eyebrow. The Post is disturbingly relevant. Recalling Nixon’s government’s attempt to stop the Washington Post and the New York Times from publishing a secret report (Pentagon Papers) about the Vietnam War, this doesn’t seem too dissimilar to when the Guardian published on Edward Snowden. The backstory behind that is just as heavy as The Post with the Pentagon Papers.

This is textbook Hollywood conveying the relationship between The Press and the government. Most poignantly, it’s a reminder of the role that the media plays in a healthy democratic society. It seems that the public are always under scrutiny but who scrutinises the scrutinisers? The leaders are employed by the public. “We have to be their check on power” says Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) as he argues with Graham (Streep) on whether to publish. Only prison and bankruptcy hang in balance! “We have to hold them accountable. If we don’t, who will?” Questions of morality. Questions of good and evil and what lies between. The vast space in the middle is sharp line. Sometimes it’s a blur and sometimes you have to break laws to do the right thing, like publishing government secrets. Sometimes laws aren’t made to protect the public. They’re made to protect governments. When governments break laws it’s okay but when the little guy does it, it’s not. Does that seem right to you?

In the 21st century, more so the 2010s, there are persistent attacks on media credibility. #AlternativeFacts. #FakeNews. There are growing government intrusions on the freedom of the media and there’s a battle between news corporations to keep their heads above water in a digital world. It’s easy to be first but being right and accurate has suffered because of that. It’s easy to lose sight of one’s principals when you’re constantly in competition with others.

Despite the pressures they faced, the characters in this film did not bow to political and corporate pressure. Though, they could have at any point. They go to Supreme Court, along with the New York Times to fight the injunction, arguing that the public’s right to know outweighs the government’s right to censor information that they think is a national security risk.

Spielberg’s The Post takes place in a time when the media was trusted. Before the internet – not now where information is at our finger tips.

The film is well-shot, well-acted and has a messages that take umbrage with society’s lack of people’s power. Whistleblowing, freedom of the press, feminism and corporations are at the forefront here.

Tom Hanks is great and this is Streep’s best performance since Iron Lady. This may well be my favourite Spielberg film and what a wonderful closing moment, excellent nod to All the President’s Men. Fantastic job.

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