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Meet the women behind Pentagon Papers drama "The Post"

The critically-acclaimed new movie “The Post” dramatizes The Washington Post’s historic decision to publish top-secret government documents detailing America’s decades-long involvement in the Vietnam War. At the center of the Steven Spielberg-directed film is Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, who grapples with whether to publish the Pentagon Papers and finding her footing in an industry largely dominated by men.

If it weren’t for two other inspiring women – a 32-year-old first-time screenwriter and a former studio head whose career was nearly derailed by hackers – it’s possible the movie never would have been made.


CBS News

CBS News’ Alex Wagner spoke to them about the power of Graham’s story, the movie, and why the movie had to be made now. 

“I thought that I was gonna write this movie and maybe it would get me an agent. That was my expectation is that maybe I would get an agent,” Liz Hannah said.

Hannah – inspired by the memoir of former Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham – wrote the screenplay in the summer of 2016 but she never expected “The Post” to be made. Then her manager leaked it to a handful of producers, including Amy Pascal.
 
“I read the script. Someone in my office got it, gave it to me, said, ‘I think you’re gonna really like this.’ I sat down and I read it and I bought it,” Pascal said. “And I loved it because it beautifully encapsulated a story of a woman finding her voice. And our country finding its voice at the same.”
 
Graham, played by Meryl Streep, faced enormous pressure from an all-male board of directors to take The Washington Post public – just as The New York Times published a blockbuster story on the Pentagon Papers.
 
When a federal court ordered the Times to stop publishing additional stories, it fell on Graham to decide whether to allow The Washington Post, and its editor Ben Bradlee, to go forward with the story. Graham would risk prison time and losing the family newspaper she inherited after her husband’s suicide.
 
“She had to take a very, very big risk. And she could have been wrong,” Pascal said.

“There’s something that was really special about this decision for her because it was personal. It wasn’t just about losing her company,” Hannah said. “This was about telling the people that she trusted most in the world … that they were wrong.”
 
“What do you think it is that allowed this woman to find her voice?” Wagner asked.

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Meryl Streep as Katharine Graham in “The Post”

20th Century Fox

“Knowing the truth. Knowing the truth. Once she knew the truth of what was happening, she could no longer protect people, she could no longer not say it. That is the thing about the truth, it makes the greater good more important,” Pascal said.          
 
Pascal moved quickly on the production. Spielberg began shooting last May and the movie was in theaters by the year’s end — lightning fast by Hollywood standards.

“It felt like this movie needed to come out this year,” Pascal said. “We just all knew that, if we were gonna do it, the reason to do it was now.”

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CBS News

“Amy bought it 10 days before the election. So the reality that we were living in then was one that sort of existed before fake news,” Hannah said. “The situation that we then found ourselves in, that we’ve been in for the last year, I think has been a real reawakening for the country. Where we have to decide what the baseline is of our morality and our ethics, and what the baseline of truth is.”

“Why free press is important; I didn’t know that we would have to remind everybody about that again,” Hannah added.
 
Graham would go on to oversee the Post’s legendary coverage of the Watergate scandal, and become the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Her story on film comes at a time when Hollywood is grappling with urgent questions about gender and power. 

“I wish I could say that 1971 was really different than 2017. But it’s not as different as I would have liked it to be. And I think I have been in that situation so many times when I ran a company and everybody in the room worked for me, and they still weren’t listening to what I said,” Pascal said.

“One of the things that makes the movie so resonant is where we are now is a reflection of a culture of people who don’t speak up. And I think that what – it starts with someone like Kay finding her voice and saying what she wants and what she thinks. That’s what’s gonna change everything,” Pascal said.
 
“The Post” was nominated for six Golden Globes, but it’s the “Time’s Up” movement that dominated the awards ceremony.

“Is there a renewed sense of purpose about what kind of films are getting made? Or is it more subtle than that?” Wagner asked.

“I don’t think that we’ve seen, like, the kind of movies that are getting made reflected yet. I think it’s been two – it’s been about four seconds. But I think it will. You know, you had two women producing this movie, you had a woman writing this movie, it’s about a woman,” Pascal said. “I think there will be more movies with female protagonists. … I think we’ll see that.”

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