Steven Spielberg’s “The Post” transports the audience back to the Vietnam-era, stifling viewers with cigarette smoke and distrust of the federal government. In many ways, however, “The Post” gains success from the parallels the film draws to the modern day, with an administration known for public lies and a president with a highly negative public image, as well as an emphasis on feminism and empowerment in the workplace.
“The Post” hails journalism as being honest, loud, and unafraid in the midst of a scandal that the government would give anything to sweep under the rug.
The film begins by throwing the audience into the Vietnam battlefield, and soon establishes the deceitful nature of the United States Government in relation to Vietnam. “The Post” tells the story of the Pentagon Papers, released in 1971 first by the New York Times and followed quickly by the Washington Post, amid much debate and discrepancy over whether to print. The Pentagon Papers were classified government documents revealing many secrets about foreign policy and military intervention in Vietnam. As the papers are copied and stolen from the Rand Corporation by Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) over a series of months and then leaked first to the New York Times and then to the Washington Post, secrets that the United States government never dreamed of revealing are brought to light. Past administrations, including those of JFK and LBJ, are cast in a bad light, though Nixon’s current administration is forced to attempt mending the damage. The most important piece of information presented by the Pentagon Papers? United States government leaders knew that the war in Vietnam was impossible to win, and they had known it since 1965.
In many ways, the Nixon administration feels familiar to that of the modern day. A president known for deceit with a very negative public image who does what he can to make things go his way… with these descriptions, it is hard to tell whether the president in this film is Richard Nixon or Donald Trump. The journalists at the Washington Post worry most about what will happen to them once the story goes to print due to the action Nixon has taken against the New York Times; he has brought legal action to the Times, and attempts to stop any more printing of the classified materials. The Nixon administration tries to put a hold on the First Amendment and take down freedom of the press before they can make him look any worse than he already does. Today, Trump has used fear-tactics to stifle press in the past, and reports of “fake news” have cast journalism in a negative light, making it hard to discern truth from lie. In “The Post,” the newspapers take it upon themselves to bring honesty and justice to a deceitful administration, reminding the audience that the press is in place to inform the people and keep the government in check. The integrity of the newspapers is impressive to say the least; it is hard to imagine staying strong when the President of the United States is threatening legal action and going face-to-face with the administration in a court of law.
Along with freedom of press, feminism is a hard-to-miss theme in “The Post,” with Meryl Streep acting as a beacon of strength and discernment when the men in charge seem frantic. Streep’s character, Katherine “Kay” Graham, is often the only woman in a room full of powerful men. Graham walks with dignity and poise when she steps into these situations, her sharp shoulder-pads breaking their way through the harsh cigarette smoke and misogyny of investor meetings. After the crucial court decision, Graham and her associates from the Washington Post step outside the courthouse, avoiding the crowds of reporters. As Graham descends the steps, she is gazed upon solely by women, often dressed in the counterculture uniform of flowy blouses and waist-long hair. This image, while lacking in nuance somewhat, does not fail to strike a cord and convey a powerful message. Graham, while not always being the most successful or wise business woman, has inspired countless young women with her actions. If there is one word to describe Graham in the film, it is brave, and her impressive bravery does not go unnoticed.
Meryl Streep graduated from Vassar College in 1971 before setting off to earn her MFA from Yale University. Streep has been in over 61 movies since her career began in 1971, and has often been deemed the best actress of her generation. It is impressive to see a Vassar alumnae earn such high praise, especially with the message she conveys in this film as well as many others: that women can do it too. There is no doubt that Katherine Graham is a highly competent publisher and can do the job just as well as her late husband or father.
If there is one word to describe “The Post” and the story it tells, is is bravery. In a world filled with lies from the government and rumors of “fake news” circling about, it is important to remember the integrity and downright bravery of newspapers in 1971, holding in mind that good journalism spreads truth above all else and making a conscious effort to do the same.