“The Post bills itself as a feminist movie, but it’s portrayal of female empowerment is remarkably dated.”
Title: The Post (2017)
Director: Steven Spielberg 👨🏼🇺🇸
Writers: Liz Hannah 👩🏼🇺🇸 and Josh Singer 👨🏼🇺🇸
Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸
If you’re in the mood for a classic Spielberg film, The Post is about as good as it gets. All his hooks are there: the heartwarming morals, a sense of righteousness, and long, cinematic takes full of dramatic energy. But no amount of directorial prowess could distract me from the sense that I was watching something utterly irrelevant.
Spielberg’s latest work discusses journalistic integrity, examining the true story of how The Washington Post fought against executive overreach in the 1970s. But in an age where modern-day journalists need to feed the beast in order to survive, what moral are we trying to take away from this film? That real life should be more like the past? That we should make America great again?
Call me a cynic, but that’s a silly notion. Our country’s readership will not suddenly, by sheer force of will, suddenly consume a media diet of just ProPublica and local news. Don’t get me wrong, I know just how crucial these voices are in today’s environment, as sausage-makers churn news about real people’s lives into entertainment and political potshots. And I know how closely the film’s Nixonian story parallels our current presidency. But we live in a different age. I’m not sure the truth really matters anymore, and I’m dying for a film that will tackle that new and scary reality—not one that buries its head underground, wishing for simpler times.
The Post bills itself as a feminist movie, starring Meryl Streep as Kay Graham, the first female publisher of a major newspaper. Yet its portrayal of female empowerment is remarkably dated.
For starters, Streep is solo in a man’s world. This is perfectly true to the time period, where newspapermen were newspaper men. But The Post seems to take this for granted, never challenging the male worldview. Graham’s employees are male; her confidants are male; her friends are male; and she consistently brings up her dead husband, chained to his memory and legacy. This isolation of a lone woman in a lead role reminds me of something the upcoming Tomb Raider’s Alicia Vikander said earlier this year:
“I've played four leading roles in a row, and didn't have a single scene with another woman.”
The Post fares a bit better than that, luckily. Graham enjoys a close relationship with her daughter, Lally (Alison Brie), helping this film pass the Bechdel test as they discuss how to keep the family business alive.
But too many patronizing moments clutter the film. For one, the talented Sarah Paulson is relegated to being a put-upon housewife who dashes around, making sandwiches for her husband and his team. And in its most self-congratulatory moment, Graham is shown leaving the Supreme Court after winning her case to publish the Pentagon Papers. It’s meant to be victorious, as she is fawned over by exclusively young women who shake her hand, trembling with emotion, while Graham smiles benignly as if enjoying a coronation. It’s an eye-rolling affair that feels staged, and condescending, to boot. Where are the men congratulating her massive victory—a victory that has nothing to do with gender? Where are the men who want to shake her hand?
Another issue with the film’s portrayal of “feminism” is Graham’s sheer reliance on the opinions of men. She seeks them out at every turn, and while I am absolutely fascinated with her transformation from a pampered creature to a strong one who rises to the occasion, her timidity simply doesn’t sit right in a film with such a firmly male gaze. The Post could have been a complicated contrast of different modes of strength, some quiet and some loud. But in Spielberg’s conventional hands, it simply comes off as a story about a woman who falls into the position of having to make a choice she doesn’t want to make. So instead, she takes the lead of Tom Hanks’ Ben Bradlee, the editor of The Washington Post, who has been whispering in her ear for the entirety of the film.
Ultimately, as we all know, Graham does what Bradlee has wanted all along: she publishes the story. This vindicates Bradlee, who is rewarded with being right all along. He’s the hero—the man behind the woman, who has successfully led a horse to water.
GradeMyMovie.com Assessment: 0% of creative decision-makers were POC.
According to GradeMyMovie.com, literally no decision-makers behind The Post are people of color. It follows, then, that Spielberg’s film is absent of meaningful characters of color. There are a few sprinkled here and there in background shots, most visibly in the line-up after Graham’s victory lap as young black women fall all over themselves to shake the hand of a privileged white woman. I mean, it’s better than having an entirely white cast, I guess? Sure, it’s accurate to the times and thus prevents this category from a rock-bottom grade. But I can’t tell which is worse—erasure or condescension. Mostly, I hate that The Post makes us choose between the two.
Mediaversity Grade: C 3.25/5
The Post is a wonderful time capsule. But give me something to chew on, dammit—something that tackles digital media and the tense, symbiotic relationship between journalism and politics. Give me something that challenges us to find integrity within a post-truth environment, where facts matter, kind of, but the way we spin them matters a thousand times more. Give me something that might actually help our modern-day problems, and I’ll carry it closer to my chest than I did The Post, which is just a film that feels like yesterday’s news.