Welcome to Cinema Nova, my name is Bhakthi Puvanenthiran I’m excited to be here tonight to introduce this much discussed and timely film. I know you’re all mostly here for Meryl Streep so I’ll be brief.
First of all I acknowledge that we are meeting today on the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation. I acknowledge the historic and ongoing connections to land that was never ceded and pay my respects to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. By way of introduction, I’m one of three associate editors at Crikey. I’ve previously worked at The Age in arts, entertainment and business reporting as well as the ABC in local radio.
A fun story about me is that the other day I was counting how many female bylines we had in an edition of Crikey, which is an ever-present battle, but I forgot to count myself which I guess makes me like the fish in the fable who can’t see the water it’s swimming in.
It’s not an easy task to make a speech right this minute. There was a speech at the Golden Globes that would be hard to outshine in any year let alone any week. But I’ve been asked to address the lives of women in the media and who better a person to compare to Katharine Graham, the pivotal character in The Post, than the person who made that speech: Oprah Winfrey?
Graham, the first ever female publisher of a newspaper, was born into a life of plenty. Her media baron father encouraged her journalistic interests but when it came time to pass the paper’s leadership to the next generation, Meyer overlooked Katharine, his favorite child. He instead chose her husband Graham and gave him the majority of the family’s stock, telling his daughter that “no man should be in the position of working for his wife”.
Oprah Winfrey’s early life involved abandonment and poverty but she too was encouraged by her father under whose discipline she took every opportunity from debate club at school to winning Miss Tennessee to landing a job as an evening news anchor at the age of 19. She is now, obviously, one of the wealthiest and most successful women in the world.
While Oprah had to work hard to be the first black women in halls of power, Graham was forced into them unwillingly upon the tragic suicide of her husband. “I didn’t want to run it because I didn’t think I could,” Graham told CNN’s Larry King.
Both women however, are regarded today as much for their power and wealth as their courage. Courage is a theme which I’m sure will be on our minds as we watch the film, and is certainly on my mind when I watch the black-led films and television stories (Selma, Queen Sugar, Greenleaf) Oprah has been producing in recent years, when she could easily be resting on her laurels.
And yet I am reluctant to make journalists and media barons our only icons of courage. After all, as Oprah said in her speech, the victims of abuse and assault are many in number among:
… domestic workers and farm workers. They are working in factories and they work in restaurants and they’re in academia, engineering, medicine, and science. They’re part of the world of tech and politics and business. They’re our athletes in the Olympics and they’re our soldiers in the military.
But if we are talking about women in media, I think it’s worth pointing out the unglamourous work of reporters like Miki Perkins at The Age — who along with Clay Lucas helped reveal alleged sexual harassment by our Lord Mayor Robert Doyle — and the tireless work of Joanne McCarthy of the Newcastle Herald, who put sexual harassment in churches on the political map.
Equally to the courage of women like Indigenous activist Nayuka Gorrie and triple j reporter Brooke Boney, feminist thinkers like Ruby Hamad and Shakira Hussein and literary heroes like Maxine Beneba Clarke who keep the industry alive to its own blinkers.
I am glad that stories like Katharine Graham’s are worthy of applause, prizes and Meryl Streep’s unfaltering gaze, but in the coming years and decades I hope it’s the lives and work of the latter women who find the place they deserve.