Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Post with the Most

The Post is not obviously a movie about gender politics, but that's what makes it all the...
more effective as a vehicle for challenging gender stereotypes that continue to devalue and overlook what women have done over time to improve the human condition and always with obstacles put in place for them by men. 

And the historical nature of the The Post that was written by a woman and man screenwriting team in 2017, the year that the fight to overcome the presumption that men are better at everything that matters and are more deserving of the top jobs and rewards in life than women went mainstream and global, manages to show us how pervasive this injustice was in the 1970s and how far we think we have come since then, but in actuality how little distance we have travelled. 

Not all reviewers agree with this analysis. 

One reviewer wrote that the gender lament of the film as portrayed by Streep actually 'feels like the wrong performance for these angry #MeToo times', a male reviewer he was and with that word 'angry', a man who shows that he doesn't get it. It's not about 'anger', it's about justice, a goal that encompasses the full spectrum of emotions and is more about solidarity and sisterhood and taking action against injustice than anything as negative and crude as anger.

But some other men are stepping up to the challenge of thinking and writing from a more gender-aware and justice-minded perspective about women (and men), and two of the reviews of The Post written in this country (not published online) have surprised me in this respect by not finding a way to diminish Streep's performance and praise Hanks', but rather openly acknowledging the strength and subtlety of Streep's performance in playing a much more complex role than the one Hanks' character plays, kind of like the difference between the roles that women and men so often play in life in general. 

One writes: 'In the end it is her film' acknowledging the greater acting challenges of the role Streep takes on in portraying the first woman publisher of a major newspaper working amongst men, having inherited the role after her husband died (committed suicide), and while surrounded by men who don't respect her or think she should be there at all. 

Another reviewer commented on how 'watchable' and 'appealing' Streep is in the film, adjectives that are not often heard in public descriptions of women over 60 (over 40) in any setting. 

So although it's no 'Wonder Woman', I think The Post and these sorts of positive and feminist-forward reviews by men represent significant progress in the battle for women's talents, equal and unique, to be recognised by the gender that has resisted and actively opposed this idea for so long. 

I have been reading and watching for this stuff for more than twenty-five years and know how rare it is to find men openly acknowledging women's value in the workplace and beyond. It sounds like a small thing but in my view it is the biggest thing of all. If men can publicly show respect and admiration for women - when and where deserved, of course - then I think we are well on our way to a more equal and empowering world for all, on and off screen.

The strongest feminist moment in the film is when the cocky character Tom Hanks' plays wakes up to the truth of the what his wife (Sarah Paulson) says about that Streep's character having shown a bravery far outstripping his own in deciding to publish the papers and risk going to prison and the end of her family's newspaper for defying the president's injunction against publishing such papers, a truth told to him by the woman who helps him into his coat every morning. 

If all men could be encouraged to wake up to the strength and bravery of women - the kind of bravery shown in the #MeToo movement indeed with women speaking out knowing they will be hated and blacklisted for it, as they have been - while understanding and admitting to themselves and others the limits of their own bravery for not doing nearly enough to fight this injustice in the past, then brave they, and we, will be. 

So Streep's performance as the brave Katherine Graham is not 'the wrong performance' for our 'angry times,' it is exactly the right performance for our unjust times to show us how far we might have come had we recognised what Hanks' character is made to recognise in the film, but no doubt failed to recognise at the time, and that our failure to progress has had little to do with the existence or not of a free and unfettered press. Indeed as the 2016 election shows, if there is one factor that brought in Trump and his mission to destroy the free press - and god knows what else - it is the ongoing resistance of men (and many women, too) to the idea that women can and must be allowed to play their vital part in leading us forward into a brighter and freer world.  

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