Meryl Streep has certainly been in the news lately. But amidst all of the complex conversations about her role — or lack thereof — in the #MeToo moment, one thing is for certain, in my opinion: Streep is absolutely deserving of her Oscar nomination for her role in the new movie The Post. She is not just great in this film; she is excellent.
That kind of performance praise comes as no surprise, of course, from the actress who was given the honorary Cecile B. DeMille award at last year's Globes and has 20 Oscar nominations under her belt. But Streep's portrayal of Katharine Graham as the recently-widowed publisher of The Washington Post in 1971 is slow-burning. Her character's journey throughout the film from cautious to commanding happens subtly, but convincingly. The way she learns to step out from beneath her male colleagues' thumbs to treat them like the peers that they are, rather than the men running the show, turns The Post into an unexpectedly feminist tale — finally giving the real life Graham the credit she deserves and transforming her into a role model for a new generation. ("This is my company!" will be the line that sticks with many a female viewer.)
But what makes this awards season contender one of the most important movies of the upcoming year is its urgency in our current political climate. The suspenseful, Steven Spielberg-directed The Post tells the story of how Graham and executive editor Ben Bradlee (depicted by Tom Hanks with the perfect amount of sarcasm and newsroom gruff) helped then-local newspaper The Washington Post race neck-in-neck with The New York Times to publish the Pentagon Papers. The team is faced with a difficult conundrum: Publish the contents of the papers, which reveal to the American people decades worth of government secrets and cover-ups surrounding the Vietnam War, or risk the future of their business, which has been dealt a federal court injunction to cease publishing the materials.
If you think a storyline about the role of the media in shady government activity from 46 years ago sounds eerily relevant, you would be right. In the first year of his presidency, Donald Trump has lampooned the media any time they've dared to publish criticisms of and negative facts about his administration. He's called journalists "the enemy of the American people," labeled reporters as "dishonest," and is, as we are all well aware by now, very fond of calling any negative claims against him "fake news." It's safe to say the current leader of the free world has an issue with one of the most basic rights in our Constitution: The First Amendment and its mandate that there shall be no law abridging the freedo of speech or the press.
So when the surprisingly climactic storyline in The Post had me on the edge of my seat for two hours in disbelief that a democratic government ever had the audacity to think it could control the media, it was impossible not to think about Trump. And throughout the story, we get an inside look into the recreated newsrooms at both The Washington Post and The Times. Both teams struggle with the potential damage unveiling the contents of the Pentagon Papers could have, with the main concern being that putting such intimate details about our country's government out in the open could potentially have threatened national security. But once they determined that there was no immediate threat to the country, Streep said the quote that many journalists have echoed in 2017: "If we don't hold them accountable, who will?"
Small spoiler alert ahead, if you aren't already familiar with the history of the Pentagon Papers. At the end of the New York Times v. The United States case, which also included The Washington Post, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the newspapers, stating that "The press was to serve the governed, not the governors." I immediately wrote down the line with the wish that I could print it out in bold ink and mail it to the White House, and I wasn't alone: The audience I was in was brought to their feet with cheers, whoops, and "mmm-hmmms!"
While it would be delicious if the timing of The Post and its freedom of the press narrative was purposely aligned for our 45th President, it seems that it's actually coincidental. Tom Hanks told The Hollywood Reporter that a year ago, they had no idea that the country would end up where it is currently. And while he has no plans to screen his latest project for the President, he does hope that the movie will help the public "take to the ramparts" and reconsider their reactions in regards to the current administration.
So both in real American history and the recreation of this tale in The Post, in the end, democracy and the American people triumphed. And nearly half a century later, we can only hope that the re-telling of this story with a little movie magic is enough to make sure history doesn't repeat itself in 2018.