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Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Post shows the press's bravery to expose the truth

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The Post (2017) by Steven Spielberg was nominated as Best Picture in the 2018 Academy Awards. It is a historical political thriller directed and produced by Steven Spielberg. The screenplay was written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer. The movie chronicles the 1971 revelatory reports done by The Washington Post on how Presidents were responsible for prolonging the Vietnam War and hiding the reasons from the American public.

 It shows the first ever female owner and publisher of a major American newspaper, Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep), taking unprecedented risks in journalism, which cement her prowess and credibility.

Daniel Ellsberg (Mathew Rhys), the true life whistleblower for the classified documents (before whistleblower became the popular usage of the term), stated that the government prolonged the war because claiming defeat would hurt the pride and confidence of the country.

Such hubris was unacceptable to him so he revealed the classified documents. When an interview segment is shown in the movie, he explains that critiquing the government was likened to critiquing the country itself, which should not be the case.  The film was brought to Bangladesh by Reliance Films and was showcased at the Cineplex.

The plot and protagonist of the story is not Ellsberg. They are the dedicated members of The Washington Post who risked their careers to publish something the American public should know.

At the heart of this revelation The Washington Post's first ever female owner, Katherine Graham, struggles to make the paper a public company. It is a way to save the paper and increase its opportunities. She faces a lot of issues being a female owner - the direct sexism and misogyny is portrayed in her first ever board meeting.

Though she has researched stocks, validity and viability of the company going public people hardly look to her for any sort of opinion or address her. She is treated as a token and nothing more. One of her board members, Arthur Parsons (Bradley Whitford), keeps on challenging her and rudely alluding that even her father gave the paper to her husband.

His death is the only reason she inherited it.  She is silently angry at the condescension and states that Phil Graham committed suicide and that somehow treating it as an "accident" further diminishes her ability to carry on as the paper's leader.

Graham also has scuffles with her editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks). When she tries to give him critical advice how to manage things he coldly deflects her critique as irrelevant. We can see this in their very first meeting when Graham attempts to show that female leadership would lessen if Bradlee keeps on writing in a manner that he does. He promptly attempts to shut her down by implying not to always be breathing down his neck.

Streep's acting of Graham is wonderfully executed; you can see her look away knowing she has faced an insult from her own subordinate and then attempts to reconcile the situation, which should be done the other way. The film extrapolates heavily on 70's American sexism and it shows it without any excuse.

The only person who initially believes in Graham is Fritz Beebe, a male friend on the board. Eventually, the movie depicts the evolving respect and friendship that is borne through the report between Graham and Bradlee. As Bradlee's wife, Antoinette Bradlee (Sarah Paulson), states to Bradlee, giving him the perspective, publishing the classified reports for Graham could end her entire life and legacy related to The Washington Post.

Initially, Ellsberg approaches The New York Times and they do the piece, only to be halted by a court injunction for being unpatriotic. One of the reporters under Bradlee, Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk), contacts Ellsberg and gets the remaining information. He has to fly by plane first class to get the reports over and then a group of reporters assembles the unnumbered pages of the reports in Bradlee's house.

 They also argue with lawyers on the paper's culpability under the house as Antoinette serves food and also helps the reporters keep going; one of them being the fire spirited, Meg Greenfield (Carrie Coon).  Bradelee then has to call Graham to get her permission to run the report and it was one of the most intense scenes in the movie. Everyone can feel themselves shiver and tremble with Streep as she shows the emotional turmoil she faces when meeting a decision that can end her paper. However, she green lights it.

Soon, The Washington Post is also called by the court for the story. Graham stays strong and says she will fight it. The reporters in The Washington Post believe when the press is censored so is the public and they are no longer living in a democracy. Graham has an emotional scene with her elder daughter where she says that her father gave Phil the paper because that's how things were done then.

She has become its inheritor in her 40s, she has never been so afraid and passionate about something like this, and she wants to fight for it, gaining the respect of her daughter.  Ellsberg critiqued Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood), the Secretary of Defense during 1966, who also happens to be a close friend of Graham.

With certain scenes we see how the public and private cannot cleanly be separated. Graham does the courtesy to visit McNamara only to tell him that despite him being her dear friend she will expose his cover-ups if needed. The meeting is ambivalent with McNamara also losing his temper on Graham and trying to put her down.

She did remind him before that her own son recently came back from Vietnam, she is grateful he is the few who came back alive.  She states that he knowingly sent so many to an inevitable massacre.  When Graham decided to side with the truth she becomes strong, confident and even defiant to those who had once looked down on her.

Spielberg expertly panels the women who look at Graham when she is coming out of the court house and how they treat her with respect.  This is shown multiple times to evoke Graham as not only a symbol who fought for truth but unexpectedly became a figure of gender equality in the male dominated press industry.


The Post is a brilliant movie that shows that freedom to truth is the public's right and that it is the job of the press to keep that right intact.

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