Feminism and press freedom come together in ‘The Post’

December 21, 2017 - 9:41 AM
Meryl Streep as Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham in 'The Post.'

LOS ANGELES | Steven Spielberg’s movie “The Post” is being hailed as a timely reminder about press freedom, democracy, whistle-blowing and government lies.

But its makers says it is also intended as an ode to feminism that resonates as powerfully today as the 1970s era in which it is set.

The movie, which begins its movie theater rollout on Friday, dramatizes the 1971 battle by U.S. newspapers, led by The New York Times, to publish the leaked Pentagon Papers. The documents showed that successive administrations had secretly enlarged the scope of American military action in Vietnam even as U.S. leaders became convinced the war was unwinnable.

Among those in the forefront of that battle was Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, played by Meryl Streep, who despite being in her mid-5Os at the time, was struggling to establish herself in a man’s world. She had taken over the publisher’s job following the death of her husband, Phil Graham.

“There is something very relatable to a woman finding her voice, to a woman standing in a room with men and being out-talked and overlooked,” said Liz Hannah, who wrote the screenplay with Josh Singer.

It was Graham who had to give the go-ahead to editor Ben Bradlee (played by Tom Hanks) to defy an injunction by the Nixon White House and risk imprisonment by publishing the Pentagon Papers.

The decision affected not only Graham’s family but the future of her company and the way she thought of herself.

Streep, 68, who is expected to be Oscar-nominated for a record 21st time next month, had no doubt about the film’s relevance for women who are still fighting for equality in corporate boardrooms and in Hollywood itself.

“I try to tell young women who weren’t alive then how different it was very recently, and it still is in those leadership circles. We have filled up the bottom of the pyramid but … where it all gets decided, we don’t have parity. We’re not even close,” Streep said.

Streep said she relied on Graham’s Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir “Personal History” for insight into the publisher’s thinking at the time.

“She was very uncertain, and it’s in her book and she talks a lot about that.” Streep said. “At work, she had so many people thinking she didn’t deserve to be where she was. We know what a brilliant woman she turned out to be.”

The Washington Post review of “The Post” said that “Streep and Hanks lead a stirring homage to the pursuit of the truth.”

And Entertainment Weekly said that Streep’s performance “elevates ‘The Post’ from being a First Amendment story to a feminist one too.”