Expect Streaming and Premium VOD to Stick Around

Just like the rest of society, there may not be a return to what was once normal.

To hear studio executives tell it, they turned to Premium VOD and streaming during the Covid-19 quarantine only out of necessity. Movies like Trolls: World Tour, The High Note, Artemis Fowl and others were pulled from the theatrical schedule and released on home video platforms because the studios had no other available choices. Theater owners, as well as NATO, made various statements about how they would remember how studios have turned against them, but most of those statements seem to have faded in intensity over time.

During a virtual CineEurope presentation, more studio heads made more comments about how excited everyone was about theaters reopening, confident that audiences are itching to get out of the house and see movies on a *real* big screen again.

That belief seems to be rooted in the basic idea that not only are behaviors ripe for changing but that outlets for that changed behavior will be available. Neither may actually be the case.

One study from Google indicates that consumer habits that have been evolving over the years may have taken firmer hold during the Covid-19 shutdowns across the country, meaning people are less likely to venture out and about for their shopping and entertainment fixes. In some ways that may be tied to bigger shifts across society and within the economy, including the higher frequency of someone working from home, the newfound love of cooking for themselves and more.

Those shifts as they relate to streaming behavior are expected to be represented at this year’s Newfronts as media companies make their virtual presentations to advertisers, positioning those platforms as the place where people are and they need to be. Spending on streaming entertainment isn’t expected to fade anytime soon either. There may be some level of subscription fatigue happening, but that’s likely only because people dipped their toe in so many different pools during the early days of stay-at-home orders, taking advantage of free trials or deciding now was when they were finally going to watch “The Handmaid’s Tale” and then cancel Hulu after finishing it. So it may be that these behaviors have now become entrenched in many households.

Add to that the ever-changing landscape of the theatrical industry, one that is already working from a deficit in part because the issue of wearing masks has become one with all sorts of political implications and beliefs. Add to that the recent shift of both Tenet and Mulan to August and it’s clear the summer movie season has all but vanished. There may be a few titles that still come out in drive-in locations and the handful of theaters in states that have done a better job of containing outbreaks, but that’s it.

In short, there’s a great deal of uncertainty about what’s next for the public health crisis we’re in the midst of and what the retail response to that is going to be. Texas and Florida are reversing course and closing bars again, while other states like Illinois are doing alright and slowly reopening more and more businesses.

It won’t take much for premium VOD to become much more popular than it already is. Really it seems to come down to 1) Price, and 2) Selection. If Wonder Woman 1984 were available to rent day-and-date with theaters, it would be massive, especially if that rental were just $9.99. To date the titles have been kids films and mid-tier dramas, but a blockbuster at a reasonable price would be a game-changer, one that could potentially blow the market wide open. That price point would be a stark contrast to the cost of taking a family to the theater, including the sunk time in driving etc that goes with it.

Premium VOD may never land as big a fish as WW84 or Black Widow, but it’s very likely it becomes a regular part of studio’s release planning, especially for the kinds of titles that are felt to have only moderate potential for theatrical success. Even so, that price point will have to come down, especially on the kids titles where the value for parents is in repeat viewing.

It won’t be long given the continued issues around what businesses are or aren’t open and what the protocol is for visiting them before the behavior around staying at home and bringing the world there solidifies even more than it already has. Studios will have to adapt to that, as will the theater owners who have been avoiding this conversation for over a decade.

How to Create Character History In One Line

It’s not hard, just very difficult.

Here’s one of my favorite scenes, with one of my very favorite lines, in the last 30 years of film.

Specifically, it’s this exchange:

Reuben: Look, we all go way back and uh, I owe you from the thing with the guy in the place and I’ll never forget it.

Danny: That was our pleasure.

Rusty: I’d never been to Belize.

Look what’s happening there.

  1. It establishes history: Sure, we already get that the three guys know each other, but this cements that they’ve worked together before and trust each other.
  2. It’s vague enough to mean anything: Reuben never states who “the guy,” “the thing” or “the place” are so the audience can fill that in for themselves. We can imagine all sorts of scenarios.
  3. It was a big deal: Rusty dropping Belize in there makes it clear that whatever trouble Reuben was in, it took Danny and Rusty off their usual turf. And Belize is likely such a unknown to most people that it doesn’t immediately bring to mind any specific memories or images, again allowing for all sorts of situations to be imagined.
  4. It establishes a hierarchy: Danny and Rusty are there kissing the ring and looking for Reuben’s help, which puts him above them on the pecking order. But they hold a favor over him that they’re not overtly referencing even if they all know it’s hanging over the conversation. Still, Danny waves it off as being a non-factor, not anything Reuben feels should compel him to agree to their plan.

Danny and Rusty are, in some way, running a small con on their friend Reuben here, hoping that the chit they still hold comes into play in getting his agreement to join their scheme. But that’s not how they approach the situation, which allows for this masterclass in establishing character history to take place.

And it’s so subtle and well-done, all without needing to segway into a 15 minute flashback or long explanation of what happened in Belize. We don’t need to know what it was, we just need to know how it affects the characters and story we’re following now.

That kind of writing is a major reason the movie sizzles with as much energy as it does, because everything we need to know is on the screen, not waiting down some digression. It’s the kind of thing screenwriters, who too often feel the need to explain every little bit of barely relevant backstory and connection down to the tiniest detail, could stand to do more frequently.

Movies For A Troubling Moment

Some ideas on what to watch to help make sense of this moment.

So much is happening right now it’s a bit hard to keep your head above water. But as with so many things it’s important not only to keep some perspective but to appreciate the context current events are happening within and the history that’s informing them.

Movies and documentaries can help us do just that. This is not by any means a complete list, and I’m the first to admit there are many gaps I’ve yet to fill in, but these are just some I’ve watched recently that I recommend you check out to do just that.

13th

Ava DuVernay’s documentary about the injustices inherent in the justice system when it comes to how black men in particular are treated is powerful and unforgettable. It pairs well with Michelle Alexander’s excellent book “The New Jim Crow” and hits on similar subject matter. Netflix has made the entire thing free on YouTube, so you’re out of excuses and should watch it immediately.

When They See Us

Also from DuVernay and also on Netflix, this is a moving and dramatic retelling of the story of the Central Park Five, a group of young men wrongfully accused of a crime and tried by those in power in the press as well as the courts. The director and producer recently launched an educational initiative about social justice and inspired by the case.

Sorry To Bother You

Head over to Hulu for this tragically under-appreciated gem of a societal comedy about code-switching, racial identity, labor practices and lots more. It’s incredibly funny and then, as you’re laughing, you realize what a huge and important point it’s making.

BlacKKKlansman

Not only is Spike Lee’s true story of a black man who managed to infiltrate a Klan cell funny and dramatic, but the director managed to insert footage at the end of the racial fears and tensions our current president was fanning into flames even as a candidate.

Pass Over

This one passed a lot of people by and that’s a shame. Lee directed this filmed version of a Chicago stage production about two young men who are terrorized by local police for no reason. Most damning is the presentation of the “good white man” character who turns out to be even more sinister than the armed authorities.

I Am Not Your Negro

The vision of acclaimed author James Baldwin is on full display in this documentary, which uses archival footage of interviews with Baldwin as well as contemporary comments from scholars and historians to educate the audience. It’s massively informative and highly recommended.

What Streaming Services Can Do To Up Their Game

As streaming services seize the day, their shortcomings become clear.

There are any number of streaming services – though notably not the big three or four – offering extended free trials or other incentives right now, hoping to capture the attention of people who are locked at home at the moment. Those audiences aren’t going to the theater anytime soon, so may as well try to hook them.

Most all of these services will make much the same pitch they’ve been making for a while now, one that’s based around their own selection of content, especially whatever originals and exclusives they’ve managed to produce or acquire. They will hope people find the balance of content and price point attractive enough to continue on for a while, occupying the rotating fourth “Other” position alongside mainstays including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and Disney+.

Most of the streamers feature roughly the same functionality, including search and various forms of recommendations, often based on a combination of what you’ve watched previously and what the company is working to promote at the moment. They also have at least a handful of shortcomings in common.

First, Lack of Context

A big, consistent problem with streaming offerings is that the content available is almost always presented as a one-off. Here’s Raiders of the Lost Ark followed by a handful of random 80s films and then Temple of Doom. That they are part of a series or have any other connective material is completely missing from the presentation.

In other words, there’s no context.

When I look up a particular Coen Brothers film what I’m presented isn’t whatever portion of their filmography is available but a selection of what the algorithm feels is “similar” to what I’m looking for. And when I finish watching one, I’m more likely to get a recommendation for whatever the corporate priority is at that time, not another movie from the same filmmakers or with the same stars.

Part of this is due to the ever-changing nature of the lineup on these services. The Bond movies bounce around from one to the other every few months, as does the Star Trek franchise. Why bother building a hub for these films when they’re just going to be gone soon?

Disney+ does the best job of solving this problem, mostly because they have such strong brands. All the Star Wars, Pixar etc material is helpfully grouped, and watching one leads to a logical and contextual suggestion for what to watch next.

As additional media companies repatriate their content under their own banner, it will be interesting to see how they handle this issue. But Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and others that still rely to a great extent on licensed material could do much better with the original content they *do* own.

Second, Lack of Peer Recommendations

Given how big a role recommendations play in the business model of most every streaming service, you’d think that they’d approach the issue from all angles. Instead they’ve focused almost exclusively on their own systems, completely missing out on the word of mouth that many other businesses of all types rely on.

To be clear, the specific problem is on-platform recommendations, which even filmmakers acknowledge is lacking. Off-site recommendations, especially those happening on social media, are still a thing but there’s no peer voice coming at you at the moment you’re in the app or on the site, just when you’re elsewhere.

This is part of a bigger problem, which is a lack of social features on many of these sites, but while I don’t necessarily need to see everything my friends are watching on Hulu, I would sometimes like to see what they’ve been watching. More accurately, I’d like to know if something I’m *considering* watching is something they would recommend. Make it a toggle switch, maybe, a feature to turn on and off when I want that extra level of insight.

Third, A Feed

Good Lord it can be maddening trying to navigate some of these sites looking for the most recent additions to the catalog. Some have sections called “New Releases” but those looking shockingly similar to what’s displayed in the “Featured” section more often than not.

It’s become common to see news stories toward the end of the month with lists of what’s coming to Amazon, Netflix and more in the next month, but actually adding them to your list is cumbersome. You need to go to the app *after* that date and either search for it or hope that it happens to appear on the front page.

There are a few options on how to get around this. First would be to just offer a straight RSS-type feed of new releases, both as a firehose and by category/genre. No, it doesn’t actually have to be RSS-based (though making one available would be great) but could be a Twitter-type page of updates showing what’s new.

On Spotify this would be even easier, and the foundation for it is already baked in. Spotify lets you “follow” artists and bands, yet there’s no subsequent section or feed of new additions by those artists and bands.

These are just a few of the areas where significant improvements could be made. As more and more players come on the scene, the existing powerhouses may find they have to up their game and overcome some of these shortcomings, all of which could make them stickier and improve subscriber retention.

Watching Movies Alone Together

Even introverts enjoy the occasional communal experience.

It’s entirely possible we won’t see a major new movie released in theaters before August. That scenario becomes a very real possibility with every new announcement from a studio saying they have pushed out the release of a high-profile film to either later in 2020 or into 2021. Just yesterday Sony moved Ghostbusters: Afterlife and Morbius to March of next year, the latest acknowledgement that theaters won’t be reopening anytime soon.

At some point the big exhibition chains will have to figure out what reopening actually means, especially given the titles available to play are going to be much different than what was originally expected. And while drive-in locations are finding themselves more popular than they’ve been in years, independent theaters, like many small businesses, may not have the resources to make it that long and aren’t going to get the same federal bailout dollars the bigger players will.

Some of the studios that already put their movies out before the Covid-19 pandemic forced the closure of theaters and other venues across the country have sent those titles to home video much earlier than expected. Those changes are bringing more interest and attention to transactional VOD, but consumers are sometimes finding the ~$20 price point for a new release much harder to swallow. Not surprising considering the percentage of the country that’s newly out of work because their employer has closed, reduced staff or altered hours in some manner.

So subscription-based streaming has come along to fill in some of the gaps. A number of services have offered new or extended existing free trials in the hopes of luring customers who find themselves isolating at home and looking for something fresh instead of scrolling through the same Netflix recommendations for the 47th time. The numbers show that streaming at home has increased as statewide lockdowns expand.

It’s a Group Hang

The new reality has also led to an interesting phenomenon: The group viewing party.

In the last week, director Cathy Yan hosted a group watch party for Birds of Prey the day it hit digital download stores.

 

Shortly after that, Nerdist got everyone to watch Clue at the same time. And today AFI launched its MovieClub, which features the tagline “Movies to watch together while we’re apart.” The first feature there is Wizard of Oz, and links are helpfully provided on the page for anyone who doesn’t already own it to download the film so they can join in the fun.

 

It’s a pretty remarkable adaptation to this new and unpleasant reality. While the theatrical exhibition business has lost some of its luster recently, with actual ticket sales falling in 2019 compared to 2018, watching movies remains a communal experience. We instinctively want to share it with others, even if we can’t be in an actual theater with them at the time. It enhances everyone’s viewing, whether it’s pure enjoyment or a hate watch.

A Ground-Up Movement

Like most such behavior shifts, this one is notable for springing from the grassroots. Many started by coordinating over social media and then using Twitter hashtags to organize the conversation and show who’s participating. And the newly-popular Netflix Party Chrome extension, allowing multiple people to watch the same movie at the same time, comes from a third party and not the company itself. AFI’s MovieClub appears to be at least one of the first official efforts along these lines.

My hunch is it won’t be the last.

Most of the bigger recent pre-Covid releases have already come to VOD, but some smaller titles are still hanging out there, while others are forgoing even the pretense of theatrical release and going straight to digital. It would make a ton of sense for some of these smaller studios to organize group viewing events in an attempt to raise the profile of those films and generate some word of mouth buzz. Filmmakers who were shut out of key festival appearances and are now seeking buyers in the streaming services can also rally their followers once those deals are signed and come to fruition.

There’s a lot of potential here, whether it’s a studio or organization that gets people watching as a group or if it’s a filmmaker or actor behind the effort. For new releases, there’s an option of including this activity as a key part of a movie’s marketing as well, one that’s baked into the campaign at its outset.

More will come, whatever form they take, because we all like watching movies with other people, even in an non-traditional setting.

Star Trek IV Shows You Don’t Need to Explain the Antagonist

The audience can have a little mystery, as a treat.

Over the last 10 years, countless movies have taken pains to make sure the audience understands every single element of the villain’s background, motivation and thinking. We’ve been asked to empathise with Thanos, been told vampires aren’t so bad, consider Killmonger’s point of view in all this and more. The bad guys are not only humanised but put on nearly equal moral ground with the heroes, making us question the motives of those heroes even more than the so-called antagonists.

In some ways that’s not a bad thing. We should consider that the world isn’t black-and-white, that many of the issues surrounding us are some shade of grey. Sure, that means we lack the moral clarity evident in the stories from an earlier age, but it also means whole groups aren’t being painted as criminals.

These kinds of in-depth explanations of why the villain is doing what they are add a lot of time to movies, one reason running lengths have ballooned so drastically.

It also means that the threat they pose is drastically reduced. There’s so much exposition and search for understanding that happens, the audience stops caring about what it is they have planned. That, plus the fact that franchises thrive because individual stories lack meaningful stakes means that even someone as world-shattering as Thanos ultimately becomes a big, purple, petulant child, not a terrible threat that must be eradicated.

All of that stands in stark contrast to the threat presented in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

If you’re not already familiar, the inciting incident that drives the story forward is the appearance of a mysterious, cylinder-shaped probe that travels through the solar system, shutting down all power in ships and outposts along its route. That leaves a trail of dead bodies in its wake, with the probe ultimately arriving at and causing chaos on Earth. It’s up to the Starship Enterprise and its crew to save the day.

star trek iv probe

While the crew takes an educated guess as to what the probe is looking for, there are a number of questions that remain unanswered, including:

  • Where did the probe come from?
  • Who sent it?
  • Why is it trying to make contact with whales?
  • What is it that causes it to short out electrical power?
  • Is it a ship, an unmanned vessel, or is it sentient itself?
  • How long has it been traveling given its late arrival?

Given how modern blockbusters are going, all of those areas would be explored in-depth if the movie were being made today, with at least a half hour devoted to an examination of the family life of the aliens that launched the probe so we could understand their background.

As it stands, though, none of that is on display. There may be some further information offered in some of the Star Trek books or encyclopedias or other sources, but if you’re only familiar with the movie ,the monolithic probe stands as a series of unanswered questions.

It’s all the more terrifying for it. Because the intentions and motivations behind the probe are never stated, the audience is left to fill in the gaps on its own. That means what the probe is out to do can be as dark and destructive as someone’s imagination will allow. It could be out to destroy Earth along with all of Starfleet. It could be out to wipe out the entire universe.

By allowing big parts of the backstory to remain unexplained, the audience has to do some work. They have to make some assumptions and extrapolate on the information that’s offered.

When every last detail of the bad guy’s thinking is rationalized and offered up for easy digestion, it removes some of the dread the audience should be feeling because there’s no mystery there. Part of what makes evil truly terrifying is that it is unknowable. Their thinking should be completely alien to us, like trying to decipher how an armour might be considering the weather.

More movies should follow the lead of The Voyage Home and other films that are similarly uninterested in explaining away the threat faced by the heroes of the story.

The Problematic Friction of Going to the Movies

It’s a big commitment, one streaming alleviates.

In her analysis of why Netflix’s awards push for The Irishman failed to get the movie an Oscar win, Indiewire’s Dana Harris-Bridson talks a lot about “friction.” Here’s the key graf:

And then there are the movie theaters, which are friction factories. Movies start at specific times, in specific places. You have to fight traffic to get there and then pay at the door, get gouged on refreshments, find a seat with a clear eyeline, and suffer through 30 minutes of commercials and trailers. It might be too hot, or too cold. It might smell like stale popcorn oil. And, worst of all, you might not even like what you came to see and then you’re stuck: There’s no forward button, or the option to nope out and try something else. Your only option is to leave, which will annoy all the strangers next to you while you feel ripped off and out of sorts for the rest of the day.

Netflix and other streaming services have, to her logic, worked to reduce that friction by making choosing to watch a movie or show a much lighter emotional lift. Thus, she concludes, The Academy didn’t see The Irishman on the same level of significance or importance because the audience wasn’t required to make nearly as heavy a commitment as was made to see other movies in theaters.

There’s likely some truth to Harris-Bridson’s hypothesis here, since The Academy wants movies to “mean something” and making the choice to physically go to a theater is certainly part of that.

Removing friction, though, is a key element of opening up movies to broader audiences. It’s true that The Irishman, a 3:30 film, is best experienced in one sustained, cohesive experience. Doing so communicates the full weight of the story and the journey of the characters, and with so much jumping around in time happening it’s the best way to keep track of what’s going on.

It’s also true that devoting a full three and half hours to a movie is something not everyone can do. Especially in an era that includes the gig economy, last minute scheduling of part time employment and other demands on people’s time that are unpredictable at best.

Somewhere around 20 percent of Americans have jobs with irregular and on-call schedules, meaning they don’t know what hours they’ll work until just before the day arrives or are subject to being pulled in at the last minute. And some 36 percent are engaged in what’s referred to as the gig economy, using apps and other tools to connect them with work that is frequently low paying and often infrequent.

Putting aside the rising costs of movie tickets, imagine someone working in one or both of those situations being able to carve out the time necessary to see a movie in theaters. Even a 2.5 hour film requires 3-4 hours or more when factoring in travel, beating the crowds to find a seat and more. Watching a movie on streaming might even be a struggle since it may be interrupted by a call that they are needed at work, a call they have to heed if they want to keep a roof over their head and food on the table.

Streaming not only reduces the friction of choice, then, but it also allows for accommodations to be made based on the reality of the watcher’s life and financial situation. Going to the theater involves making the choice to check out of the world for a few hours and deal with the repercussions of doing so. Or they get up and leave to deal with things, which seems reasonable but also means accepting that the individual will miss out on the remainder of the film.

If something comes up while watching a streaming movie, all that needs to happen is the movie is paused until later. When they are free again they can pick it back up.

Audiences aren’t necessarily making the choice of theater OR streaming viewing. This and similar reports have shown the overlap is significant, as most people who watch movies via streaming also regularly go to theaters. It’s just that one or the other may be more convenient at any given moment or a more realistic choice in a particular circumstance.

If the thinking is right that The Academy opted not to honor The Irishman because watching it was too easy for audiences and therefore couldn’t be as meaningful as Parasite and other titles it’s another sign of how out of touch those people are with the realities people in the audience are faced with.

All movies mean something – or have the potential to mean something – because all involve the audience deciding *this* is worth an investment of my time *now.* All that’s different is the venue that investment takes place in, but in very few instances does venue convey any significance or importance in and of itself.

We Need To Talk About That Jeep/Groundhog Day Commercial

There are so many problems here it’s hard to keep count.

Groundhog Day, most people would acknowledge, is a classic comedy of the late 20th century. Directed and cowritten, along with Danny Rubin, by Harold Ramis, Bill Murray stars as a misanthropic, egotistical weatherman laid low by having to spend anywhere from decades to centuries reliving February 2nd in Punxsutawney, PA, where he’s been sent to cover the famous groundhog’s prognostications.

As is commonly known, the filming of the movie caused a rift between Ramis and Murray that lasted until just before Ramis passed away in 2014. The two reportedly clashed during production as they had different visions of how the story should play out, with Murray exhibiting difficult behavior while shooting and refusing to speak with Ramis directly on many occasions.

Thus ended one of the more fruitful and groundbreaking professional relationships in comedy for the 20 years prior. The two worked together in various capacities since they met while both at National Lampoon Radio Hour, going on to make several movies together, including many that are landmarks of the genre.

As much as Murray’s performance, Ramis’ direction and script are the elements that have made Groundhog Day so beloved. The two creators are equally regarded when it comes to the movie.

Murray hasn’t commented on the fractured friendship with his collaborator of two decades in the years since Ramis passed. So it was a little odd when the actor reprised his role of Phil Conners in a Super Bowl commercial for Jeep.

The story of how Olivier Francois, chief marketing officer at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, conceived of the spot and navigated Murray’s famously difficult method of getting in contact is interesting, including how they secured signoff from Sony Pictures, is interesting enough. But notably missing is any mention of working with anyone associated with Ramis.

Given Ramis’ role as cocreator of the characters and story, it would seem to be only polite, even if it might not be completely necessary from a legal point of view, to have gotten the blessing of Ramis’ widow or children. Fiat Chrysler Automotive could have presumably done so relatively easily.

More problematic for me, though, is that there was no statement from Murray that he had done so. Given the place the movie holds in the history of their relationship, taking the step six years after Ramis passed away to revisit a movie he was instrumental in crafting seems like it should have been a moment to continue mending fences. Addressing the issue would have been a good move simply from a reputational point of view if nothing else.

To be fair, there may have been private communications that haven’t been discussed. But the lack of statement by Murray or anyone on his behalf is disconcerting and only makes the actor seem like he continues to hold a grudge, as if he wants to continue writing Ramis out of the narrative of the movie and its history.

It’s interesting that Murray chose this project as his first television commercial. And he certainly looks like he’s having fun in the spot, which nicely nods to the original in various ways. I just wish there were a little more self-awareness of the history it’s drawing upon as well as a bit more humility about the talent involved in crafting that history.

The Post Shows The Dangers of Media Befriending Powerful People

In July of last year, Kim Masters wrote at The Hollywood Reporter about allegations Vanity Fair publisher Graydon Carton had killed at least one major story about the late Jeffrey Epstein and his sex-trafficking activities involving young girls. Specifically, Masters uses another journalists recounting of Carter’s interference to share her own experiences at that magazine where stories were shut down because they involved friends of the publisher.

The kinds of anecdotes shared by Masters and others are all of a kind: The rich and powerful editors, publishers and owners of media outlets take an active role in shaping the coverage they oversee to protect other rich and powerful people. Everyone in this circle gets together at the Met Gala, exclusive parties and other events and, having become friendly, make sure their friends are subjected to any embarrassment.

Masters’ piece came to mind while watching The Post recently. The movie, directed by Steven Spielberg, focuses on a period in the early 1970s when The Washington Post was working to report on The Pentagon Papers, a trove of documents showing the government had been lying about the Vietnam War and the general area for decades.

Early on in the film, publisher Katherine Graham (Meryll Streep) is approached at a dinner party by her close friend – and White House Secretary of Defense – Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood). McNamara wants her to know The New York Times is about to report on those documents and the story will be embarrassing to him and others.

Throughout the story we see Graham hobnobbing with the rich and powerful of Washington, D.C. elite, including others who work in and around the Nixon administration. It’s clear that the work being done by both newspapers is disrupting the operations of those individuals. At the very least it’s embarrassing.

Graham, of course, isn’t the only one who has made friends with those in power. Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) admits toward the end that there were instances where newsworthy comments were made or incidents witnessed by him involving, among others, Pres. John F. Kennedy that he ignored or passed by in the name of maintaining the relationship.

Such a situation is all too common in the media world, where executives in charge of reporting the news attend the same social events as those making the news. It’s not limited to executives, either, as high-profile columnists are in the same boat.

When that happens, the public suffers. We’re seeing that in the Epstein and other cases as it comes to light that powerful people knew the truth of what he’d been accused and convicted of and didn’t make a stink because he provided access to others. The premise of the film is that if Graham and Bradlee hadn’t put their own personal relationships aside and held their duty as journalists in higher regard, we may not have learned important information about drastic abuses of power.

It raises the question of what is happening now that could be important to know. What is David Brooks not putting in print because he doesn’t want to upset someone he considers a friend? What decisions are newspaper editors installed by private equity owners making that are limiting the flow of relevant information to the general public?

More and more of the country loses their sole local news source every year. These news deserts are growing at the same time media consolidation is making local news more homogenous in tone and content. That all means fewer and fewer people are making the decisions as to what is or isn’t news and how the events of the day are presented to the public.

That’s a disturbing reality, especially when coupled with how Facebook and other social platforms, which account for so much of people’s modern news consumption, have utterly abdicated anything that could reasonably be referred to as “editorial oversight.”

When The Post was released, this aspect of the story wasn’t present in much of the coverage or reviews, at least not those that crossed my reading. The focus was on the more general theme of how important it is for a free and independent press to operate as a check on abuses of power. What wasn’t made clear in that coverage, though, was that the kind of friendships shown between the characters is a serious impediment to that journalistic mission, as much as the climactic Supreme Court case in the story.

While that showdown is suitably dramatic, it’s the more mundane conflicts that form the real message of the movie.

Outdated Cultural Depictions Deserve Relevant Updates

Acknowledging the past is the best way to educate the present.

With so many classic films available on Disney+ it was inevitable that the topic of how some of those movies have, in the vernacular of the day, not aged well would eventually come up. The studio’s history is so deep and the number of movies so substantial, it’s only natural that some of these movies feature characters, stories, songs and other attributes that were a product of their time but which are no longer considered acceptable or appropriate.

It’s a common problem any studio would have to deal with if it were to put its entire catalog all in one place. Paramount would likely have to revisit the problems with movies like Breakfast at Tiffany’s – which features Mickey Rooney in yellowface – if it created a portal where it not only offered that and other movies it had produced over the years but was responsible for presenting it as well.

To address this very real issue, Disney has taken two approaches. Either they’ve A) kept the movie in the “vault” like it has with Song of South, realizing there’s little to no redeeming qualities to it or B) applied a note to the opening of the movie that reads thusly:

“This program is presented as originally created. It may contain outdated cultural depictions.”

While some have criticized the move because it hasn’t been consistently applied, because it’s not specific enough or because it shows some kind of kowtowing to the liberal elites, it’s a step in the right direction.

No, the disclaimer may not be perfect in various ways but it’s better than nothing. More than that, it’s exactly what’s needed to put older material in its proper historical place.

Over the years there’s been so much debate over cultural works like Huck Finn and other books, movies, shows and more that feature language, terminology, racial depictions, sexual politics and other story elements. School boards have discussed banning books, removing movies from libraries and such but removal has never been an answer that’s respectful or long-term.

It’s much more sustainable to offer education, acknowledging that mistakes were made in the past that now seem ill-advised if not utterly offensive. There can be opportunities to keep up with where society is at the moment instead of constantly trying to flush things down the Memory Hole and hoping no one brings them up. Such tactics only consign serious debates about where those cultural artifacts stand in history and how we’ve advanced to the sidelines, not allowing for people to consider them as anything above a kind of illicit smut that is usually hidden under the mattress.

Room for improvement in the disclaimer exists in a few areas:

  • Lose the ambiguity: “It may…” is too wishy washy and lets the content owner off the hook for seriously evaluating what’s on display. If they know it does, state it clearly.
  • Make it consistent: it’s a valid criticism to say that not showing the disclaimer on all applicable films, so address that immediately.
  • Offer more details: What is it specifically that’s outdated and why? Pointing people to a domain where they could get more information on what it is that’s no longer appropriate and offer resources to learn about how things have changed.

These – and other – movies shouldn’t be erased from the cultural landscape, nor should they be altered to remove elements that are offensive. The originals can be presented as they are and were, but acknowledging that some of these things are well past their sell-by date.