Anonymous Content, 2022
Amy Rice and Evan Parter
📷 : Licensed from Shutterstock
Movies and TV shows with a lot of dialog
Mysteries or whodunnits
It has been a while since I’ve seen a film about journalism and the newspaper industry. The 2017 release, The Post, is probably the most iconic, though Spotlight (2015) and Absence of Malice (1981) come to mind as well. Nothing stands out for me more than the 2009 film, State of Play, starring Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, and Rachel McAdams. Seeing movies like these takes me back to the days when I would buy a Chicago Tribune or “Sun-Times” from the El-station vendor on my way to catch the morning train to DePaul, where I attended undergrad. The smell of the ink, the sound of a page turning, and the feel of the paper in my hands as I read the stories from the front page to the Opinion section, made me feel connected to the city and acclimated me to the day. It also helped make me oblivious to everything else about the hour-long train ride, such as vendors moving from car-to-car yelling: “Got those socks!” “Got that rolling paper!” The creak of the doors seemingly opening every minute to let passengers on and off. And the blare of boom boxes playing the disco versions of Evelyn Champagne King’s “Shame” and Barry White’s “Ecstasy” too loud, too early in the morning (smiley face).
Yes, The Independent took me back as it went inside the newsroom. It’s a story about a young Black female journalist determined to pursue stories that matter, like issues around politics and schools. Instead, her direct and confrontational style, it seems, leads her boss, Gordon White, to dismiss her ideas and relegate her to menial, unimpactful stories, like what people do for Valentines Day. While informing the team that the paper, now electronically published, has been acquired and that layoffs will ensue, he cynically asks for story ideas that could enhance the value of the paper, minimize the inevitable layoffs that occur when companies are bought, and keep the bosses happy.
Undeterred by the cynical if not rude dismissal of several ideas offered by some of her older and more experienced colleagues, “Eli,” played by Jodi Turner-Smith (Without Remorse, Queen & Slim), bravely offers up a couple of ideas. The first one Gordon, played by Stephen Lang (Avatar: The Way of the Water, Old Man), declares as effectively stupid, but she persists in her second idea to cover the new Independent presidential candidate, played by John Cena, who is giving the Democratic incumbent and Republican candidate a run for their money. Gordon yields but instructs her to “hand over [her] notes” to Kevin, a slightly more senior colleague played by Andrew Richardson (Killer Among Us, A Call to Spy). Raise your hand if you have seen or experienced this before on your job.
Nonetheless, this scene sets the stage in the film for seeing the difference that can be made in one person’s life or career by the decisions senior colleagues make. After he observes Eli being teased by the beneficiary of her idea, Nicholas Booker intercedes, sending Kevin off with his tail between his legs. He subsequently turns to Eli, stating “Send me your best work.” Played by Brian Cox (Succession, Bourne Identity), Booker is a 50-year seasoned and accomplished newspaper veteran who is highly regarded by bosses, colleagues, politicians, and others who have been on both the right and wrong ends of his work over the years. Ultimately, he and Eli collaborate on the forbidden project and enter a quagmire over who is stealing funds from the lottery to pay for their political campaign.
Interestingly, while the film focuses on the political story, politics play out in the newsroom and corporate offices visited throughout the film. At the newspaper, a colleague with a level of experience similar to Eli takes immense joy in watching her stay mired in menial, low-impact stories. Meanwhile he is placed on a path for his career to progress and put in a position to make a name for himself. There is also the jaded and cynical senior editor, Gordon, who is preoccupied with maintaining the status quo by avoiding risks. He routinely lets go of people who dare to challenge, to make noise, and to do what newspapers set out to do centuries ago. In a scene at a corporate office, the head of Human Resources for a company expresses her discomfort to a senior colleague about a memo “suggesting” they contribute to a candidate’s political campaign. He nonchalantly advises her, “Do it to keep the ‘ol man happy.” Unfortunately, so much of politics – traditional and corporate – is about keeping those who control jobs and livelihoods happy rather than about doing what’s right, ethical, and what ultimately leaves people with their self-respect intact.
Exemplary of this is when Eli, while clearly displaying her journalistic chops, reveals her inexperience when she unethically, if not illegally, acquires the information she needs for the story. Nicholas admonishes her for her grave lapse in judgment, stating that he did not get to the end of his career and achieve prestigious accolades to have it all diminished on the brink of his retirement. In other words, ethics count for something.
While not necessarily an action-packed, edge-of-your-seat political thriller, The Independent’s bright and clean cinematography, strong messages about principles and ethics, and diverse representations of the characters make it a solid contemporary piece. The unusual mentoring relationship between a 30-something Black woman and a boomer-age adult demonstrates the value of wisdom, experience, and institutional knowledge, especially when there is a genuine willingness to share it with those of a different background who are equally willing to learn.