The Undeniable Timeliness of ‘The Post’

The Post is a phenomenal film. There is no other way to describe it. It is personal and it is timely and it is completely worthy of its critical acclaim.

Meryl Streep in The Post (2017). © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

I study political science, not in a pretentious way, but it is kind of the norm as such a student to know and understand the historical importance of the Pentagon Papers and the Supreme Court decisions that stemmed from that, given the precedent they set. So I went into the film with thorough knowledge of the events it tackles. And this is a sort of litmus test for films inspired by real life events: can a film about something I’m so familiar with keep me interested for its entire running time?

The Post did that and more. Steven Spielberg knows how to build suspense, for lack of a better word. The way he does that is by giving us something clear to root for: defending the First Amendment at any cost necessary and exposing the government for lying to the people for decades. It isn’t hard to get the expected reaction from the viewer, given the viewer probably feels like they a part of “the people” and wants justice to be served, not just at the time the film is set, but also in today’s political climate.

Which is the aspect in which The Post truly succeeds. It is so timely and so necessary. The smartest decision Spielberg made was rushing production to have the film released now, of all times. He was right in saying this film couldn’t wait two or three years. This is a film we ought to watch right now, to remind us of how hard and how long the fight for freedom of the press has been, and why it has always been necessary. And to remind us that when a woman is given the power to make hard decisions, it is those around her who shiver.

One of most important quotes used in the film, one we revisit in Political Science classes all the time is: “The press was to serve the governed, not the governors,” said by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black in New York Times Co. v. United States (1971). Props to the screenplay for that one. It gave the film an emotional tone that, in part, made it feel personal to me. I live in the United States now, but I am from Cuba, where I grew up. Freedom of speech and the press have been the thing I feel most grateful about since I left that socialist regime whose state-run media is anything but free. And I know there is one thing the people in the U.S. never let anyone mess with: The First Amendment.

In the past two years the press, whose job has been to be a check on the government for centuries since the Bill of Rights was signed into law, has been under attack by the current administration in the U.S. There is nothing closer to the heart of Democracy itself than the power to hold those in power accountable, and that has always been the role of the press, no matter who it upsets, no matter who it makes uncomfortable. It has the burden of telling the truth and being a vessel of information to the public, and if that is hijacked, then we all lose. The Post is a reminder of upholding truths and confronting tyrannical behavior. That makes it precious.

When the newspaper started printing the Pentagon Papers story on screen, I had tears running down my face. I knew it was going to happen, I knew what the role of The Washington Post on the publishing of the Pentagon Papers was, yet the anticipation during the film was killing me, and the relief when it finally was done was exhilarating, satisfying and increasingly emotional.

Another aspect that makes this film so timely has a lot to do with the small, but powerful speech Sarah Paulson gives to Tom Hanks where she calls Kay Graham brave, because women have been told for so long that they don’t have the resolve to make tough decisions, that they start to believe it, but Graham stood up and risked everything anyway. This is transcending. Today, women still need to hear these words, which are not just of encouragement, but inspiration to be brave and stand up for the respect our own abilities deserve, since nobody else will.

Seeing Meryl Streep’s Kay Graham grow and develop in the film was a true mirroring of the insecurities women can feel in a world surrounded by men who will most likely underestimate our value, and the extra work a woman has to put in to, not only earn the respect of others, but get the courage and confidence to speak up. Graham goes from not even being able to speak a word, to making the most important decision The Washington Post had ever faced, and she makes the right one. We can see in Streep’s eyes the feeling of empowerment and unequivocal conviction to uphold the values of the press and the newspaper, and parallelly her command and voice among the men who didn’t believe in her.

For yet another tear-shedding-moment we see Graham descending the steps of the Supreme Court being admired by young girls who had most likely never seen a woman hold the position she held, much less have the power to make the decision she made. “This what it feels like to feel represented, to feel empowered, to feel like we matter” was what they were thinking, and it was what I was thinking, too. It was a feeling similar to when Hillary Clinton accepted her nomination at the Democratic National Convention, and I couldn’t hold back my tears, nor did I want to. I held onto my chest and smiled and cried.

This film has been called out – and made fun of – for being Oscar bait. And maybe it is, but, like the Academy, I am a sucker for Spielberg-directed-true-story-inspired films. Schindler’s List is my favorite film of all time, I just can’t help it. There is something about history being told through the lens of film that gets to me, perhaps because of the power it has to reach a wider spectrum of people, but also because of how important it is to revisit these events and remind ourselves that history must not repeat itself. Also, Meryl Streep’s talent is undeniably put in full display, as is Tom Hanks’. I have no words for Spielberg, he blew me away. In some ways, this review serves as a love letter and a thank you letter to him.

I’ve read critiques on the historical accuracy of the film and how it downplays the role of The New York Times in the acquisition of the papers, their publication, and the Supreme Court case, but I must defend The Post by saying that the point of the film wasn’t to tell the story behind The Pentagon Papers, but to highlight the imminent threat at the time to the freedom of the press and how important it was to uphold and defend that freedom, not only then, but now. It is through The Washington Post’s decision to publish in spite of the possible consequences that this story can be told best. And without it, we wouldn’t have the story of Kay Graham, who represents a deliciously painful punch in misogyny’s face.

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