Of all of the new movies coming out this year, here’s one you might have overlooked: The Post, directed by Steven Spielberg. A dramatic account of the Washington Post’s 1971 decision to publish the Pentagon Papers, The Post is, by all accounts, one of the most thrilling films of 2018. An awe-inspiring Meryl Streep performance, the iconic 1970s setting, and an engrossing plot make The Post a must-see, but for young activists, The Post’s real triumph is the resonance of its message in the modern day.
Opening in 1960s Vietnam, The Post explores the creation of the Pentagon Papers as a true account of the horrors of the War. When these sensitive documents are leaked to the New York Times, revealing that the U.S. unjustifiably expanded a hopeless war, a scandal unfolds. An embattled Nixon administration files an injunction against the New York Times, preventing them from publishing the papers.
Subsequently, the financially struggling Washington Post, published by Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep) and edited by Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), finds itself with a difficult decision: should it publish Pentagon Papers, risking the government’s wrath? Or should it let the papers go and live to fight another day? The question about the role of journalism in society persists throughout The Post.
It’s not hard to imagine that some of the plot points— presidential opposition to the free press, journalism on the defensive and government cover-ups— were taken straight out of modern headlines rather than history books. The Post navigates these parallels masterfully, creating a thrilling testament to the powers of journalism and free speech. Streep’s Katherine Graham, the glamorous caftan-clad defender of the First Amendment, demonstrates the power of determined individuals to speak truth to power.
In the era of “fake news” where assault on journalism seems to be the new status quo, the optimism of The Post is ray of hope – and it should be, because ultimately, journalists have a right and a duty to seek truth and spur change. As long as our press remains as vigilant and free as it was in 1971, democracy will not die in darkness— not anytime soon, at least.