Vassar’s own Meryl Streep empowers women on the big screen

Oscar winners Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks star in Steven Spielberg’s “The Post.” This political thriller centers on the uncovering of government secrets, simultaneously emphasizing women’s empowerment and moralistic journalism. / Courtesy of Flickr

As we find ourselves in the midst of Oscars season, Vassar’s very own three-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep once again steals the spotlight with her brilliant new movie, “The Post. Packed with anxiety-inducing scenes, light-hearted moments and empowering messages, “The Post” is a finely crafted political thriller that kept me at the edge of my seat.

Directed by Steven Spielberg, the film centers on the real life events of the 1970s Pentagon Papers scandal and The Washington Post’s decision to publish these documents. The Pentagon Papers were highly confidential government documents that discussed the reality of the involvement of the United States in the Vietnam War and ultimately revealed the Johnson Administration’s lies to the American public.

The movie focuses on Katherine Graham, or “Kay” (played by Meryl Streep), and her leadership of The Washington Post during this scandal. After inheriting the business from her father, Graham managed The Washington Post for 20 years and became the first female publisher of a major American newspaper. The film depicts Graham’s struggles of having been the only woman in the chaotic world of 1970s journalism and business, and how she grappled with one of the biggest ethical issues in journalism—honoring the truth when it can be incredibly sensitive and damaging. Working with her all-male counterparts—the executive board of the paper and her top journalists—Graham often questioned herself, even though she was highly equipped to lead the paper. However, at the climax of the movie, faced with a high-pressure decision and surrounded by opinionated men from opposite ends of the spectrum telling her what to do, Kay made a choice that was bold, empowering and decidedly her own.

What I liked most about the movie was its focus on championing the underdog, specifically its clear message about women’s empowerment in the workplace. The film has many scenes that highlight the sheer magnitude of men Graham was surrounded by and how she questioned herself when they would challenge her. As a person who wielded significant power yet was constantly treated as a subordinate by the men who reported to her, Graham eventually became adept at deflecting the condescension that she often faced and took pride in her role at the company. The theme of women feeling insignificant in the workplace is still incredibly relevant today and needs to be talked about. I’m glad the movie not only focused on Graham’s relationship with the newspaper, but also ended with an inspiring triumph of justice that was majorly engineered by the female lead.

In addition to focusing on Kay’s development as a leader, the movie emphasized the success of the underdog by exploring certain institutions’ and characters’ commitment to exposing the truth. We see a struggling paper surface as a top news source, a leaker’s desperate attempt to expose politics that are unjust and the courage of the news in the face of the law and American government. These subplots presented a lot of tension and conflict, but dealt with noble concepts, making the focus of the film very weighty. I was especially attracted to the way in which the movie depicted the intense journalism and political scene of the ’70s. The excitement made me want to be a journalist in that time period.

The movie was well written and had admirable acting. I wasn’t surprised to see Streep in a strong female role. She did a wonderful job of displaying Graham’s character development from a shy leader to a bold and pioneering commander. Tom Hanks played Ben Bradlee, her witty right-hand man, and he matched Streep’s nuance with his intensity.

Perhaps one criticism of the movie was that for such a serious topic, it seemed a little too happy. While I agree that the honoring of truth is noble and can easily be captured with an air of inspiration, the movie never goes into the grave injustices of what the journalism it centers on aimed to expose about the Vietnam war. In other words, although justice was served in the form of publishing the truth, the actual information about how the U.S. government lied to the public was quite sad and not explored in the film. However, I do understand that the movie was strictly about the inner workings of the journalism field and not about the political events themselves of the time period.

Overall, I thought “The Post” was a brilliant movie with a captivating plot, relevant themes, positive messages and dramatic acting. It wasn’t particularly artistic or quirky, but rather a really serious mainstream film. However, it could give you a lot of second-hand anxiety, because it is filled with high pressure situations that are definitely more life-like than that of an action movie. I would recommend it to anyone who can handle or likes watching a lot of chaos, or anyone who is interested in politics and journalism. I would give it 4.5 out of 5 stars. Check it out if you have a chance.

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