Two Movies for Our Time

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There are two films in theaters right now that are Oscar contenders and feel especially relevant. The first is The Post, which tells the story of The Washington Post’s decision to publish the Pentagon Papers in 1971, detailing the United States’ decades-long involvement in Vietnam, spanning multiple administrations. The second is I, Tonya, which, believe it or not, makes Tonya Harding a sympathetic character and uses the lens of class to do so.

The Post, directed by Steven Speilberg, comes at a time when the current president of the U.S. attacks the press day in, day out and labels stories that he doesn’t like as fake news. The most chilling parts of The Post occur when the film recreates parts of the Nixon tapes, including a line in which Nixon says he doesn’t want any Washington Post reporters in the White House. Tom Hanks does a fine job playing Post editor Ben Bradlee, and Meryl Streep gives a strong performance as Post publisher, Kay Graham. The film has drawn several comparisons to the 2015 film Spotlight, which tells the story of the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse cover-up  and The Boston Globe’s coverage of it. In some ways, The Post feels like it was written specifically for the Trump era, and maybe it was. There is a chance that the film may not age as well as Spotlight, but regardless, The Post is an important reminder of why we need a free press.

The Post also resonates because of Kay Graham’s challenges of being a woman in a leadership position, unsure if The Post was even going to survive financially. Not only did she have to decide whether or not to publish the Pentagon Papers, while the NYT was fighting the Nixon Administration in court, but she had to confront a board of all-male bankers, once The Post went public, who were eager to overrule her decisions, including the decision to publish the Papers.

I, Tonya is also a docudrama, but one that is more focused on issues of class. The film portrays Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) in a sympathetic light. At least half of the movie centers around the relationship with her domineering, abusive mother, LaVona Golden (Allison Janey), who, at one point, throws a knife at her daughter that sticks in her arm. Even in that scene, she doesn’t apologize. Golden is quick to remind Harding that she works so many hours  as a waitress to pay for figure skating.

The film offers the premise that the judges often disliked Harding and saw her as white trash, while they viewed Nancy Kerrigan as the all-American girl. At one point, Harding chases a judge down in his car in a garage and asks what exactly she can do to earn a fair score. Essentially, the judge tells her that she isn’t the type of girl they want representing the U.S. In another scene, Harding, dressed in a pink outfit that she sewed herself, blurts out to a panel of judges that she’ll never be able to afford a $5,000 figure skating outfit that’s more to their liking.

I, Tonya deconstructs and rewrites the media narrative that was created around Harding in the mid-90s, after Kerrigan’s leg was clubbed. The film focuses on the abuse she suffered at the hands of her mother and husband, Jeff Gilloly (Sebastian Stan), while highlighting some of the class barriers she had to overcome. Like The Post, I, Tonya feels especially relevant in 2018.

 

 

 

 

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