Steven Spielberg: America’s divided politics today are like ‘before the Civil War’
I didn’t like the trailer for The Post. I thought that the tone was “off” and it seemed like it was trying to be all things to all people – a suspense/thriller, a bio-pic of Katharine Graham (the legendary publisher of the Washington Post), a by-the-books historical account, and a showcase for “the best actors in the world,” Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. I was left cold by the trailer, but I know I’ll eventually see the film and hell, I’ll probably even like it (I enjoy films about journalism). The early reports are that the film is great too – the National Board of Review (arguably the most prestigious of all the critics’ awards) gave The Post the Best Actor and Best Actress awards, and the film is being short-listed on everyone’s Best Picture list.
Anyway, director Steven Spielberg covers the latest issue of The Hollywood Reporter to support The Post, and THR surrounded him with his female colleagues: Meryl (his star), Liz Hannah (the screenwriter), Amy Pascal (producer) and Kristie Macosko Krieger (producer). The idea is supposed to be “feminism” or “America’s greatest director is a great ally.” Eh. You can read the entire THR piece here. The film – about WaPo’s publication of the Pentagon Papers – is timely in that it’s about journalism’s role in speaking truth to power, whether or not the First Amendment protects media outlets when they publish stolen, hacked or leaked government information, and whether the fourth estate can really ultimately serve as a “check” in the balance of power. THR spoke to Amy Pascal, Meryl and Spielberg, and here are some of the highlights:
Spielberg on why he wanted to make this movie in 2017: “I thought this was an idea that felt more like 2017 than 1971 — I could not believe the similarities between today and what happened with the Nixon administration against their avowed enemies The New York Times and The Washington Post. I realized this was the only year to make this film…My first reaction [reading the script] was I got scared — which is good for me because fear is my fuel. The more frightened I become of something, the more I have to work through it. This was a topic that was scaring everybody I know on my side of the [political] street — and quite rightly.
Spielberg on what scares him these days: “That we’ve lost the majority of good listeners, that our conversations have turned into skirmishes … at dinner-table conversations outside of California, I’m completely mute or I get into these huge rows. The gray and the blue have become the blue and the red. And it is as vast a chasm as our nation faced before the Civil War. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Streep on what scares her: “We don’t know where north is. People disagree on what actual facts are. Whether this table is really a table.”
Streep on whether she trusts the media today: “Broadly? All of it? No. You trust but verify. We get betrayed.”
Spielberg on whether he trusts the media: “I’m not going to go on record saying which media I trust; I’m just saying, obviously, there is media that you would imagine I would not trust. (Laughter.) Obviously, there is media you would take for granted I trust, and you would be right.
There’s a lot more in the THR piece, which I liked because it wasn’t just Spielberg talking over the ladies. It was a larger conversation and they all got to say their piece. I found the part about Edward Snowden and Julian Assange very interesting too – the group talks about whether Snowden had the right to steal and leak that information, and whether Assange had the right to publish the material Chelsea Manning stole. What strikes me more and more about both Snowden and Assange is how their respective causes were weaponized against the American people. Specifically with Assange, although Snowden doesn’t have clean hands at all, looking back on it. Assange started out with one good and interesting principle – that there are no gatekeepers to the truth, and that we should have access to every piece of information in a free society – and that message was hijacked and weaponized by Russia and Deplorable propagandists. The cause of free and filterless information got hijacked by a propaganda machine, and the machine got Donald Trump elected and now there’s no such thing as truth, verification or facts. Sleep well, kids!
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Photos courtesy of Getty, cover courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter.