Before there were “alternative facts,” there were the Pentagon Papers.
Shielded from public view, the classified, 47-volume study would expose the government’s misleading assessment of the Vietnam War, propaganda that would have gone uncovered were it not for groundbreaking reporting by the New York Times and the Washington Post.
Much like those newspaper reporters and editors who raced to make deadline, Steven Spielberg hurried to make a feature-length film in less than a year about the importance of a strong, free press.
“I just felt there was an urgency to reflect 1971 in 2017 because it was very terrifyingly similar,” Spielberg said Monday night after a screening of the film at the Directors Guild of America in West Hollywood. He later added: “Our intended audience are the people who have spent the last 13-14 months thirsting and starving for the truth.”
“The Post,” which bows in limited release on Dec. 22, arrives at a timely moment in the American zeitgeist as the country grapples with sexism, power, and the battle for truth in the Trump era. The press has worked overtime over the last year to beat back on an onslaught of untruths from the Trump administration and it attempts to sell its “America First” agenda. And while the importance of a strong and independent press is a central theme in the film, “The Post” is ultimately a story about how Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) overcame self-doubt and the sexism she endured as publisher of one of the country’s top newspapers.
“For me, this was her coming-of-age story,” writer Liz Hannah said. “There’s something very relatable to a woman finding her voice.”
Streep, who relied on Graham’s autobiography and interviews with her children to prepare for the role, lamented just how little things seemed to have changed in nearly 50 years since Graham became the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
“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,” Streep said. “We’ve filled up the bottom of the pyramid, but where it all gets decided, we don’t have parity. We’re not even close. … It’s relevant to today.”
The film features an ensemble cast that includes Tom Hanks as the legendary Post editor Ben Bradlee, who worked closely with Graham to bring his newspaper to national prominence. Hanks said he was fortunate to have met Bradlee before he died in 2014 and was struck by how the editor could command a room and the passion he brought to newspapering.
“The man I met was curious, he was interested in what was going on and what you had to say — a conversation with him flew by,” Hanks said.
“The Post” also stars Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Rhys, Alison Brie, and Carrie Coon. Josh Singer (“Spotlight”) co-wrote the script, in addition to executive producing the film.
Distributed by Fox, the film opens wide on Jan. 12.