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“If you can go out there and stand up for what it is you believe in no matter how many times you are knocked down, in the end the swinging of your own blows will exhaust them.”-- Erin Brockovich
Erin Brockovich is a biographical drama wherein Julia Roberts portrays the woman who helps take down Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) for its negligent disposal of a toxic, corrosive chemical into a community’s water source. Exhausted from failed job searches, Brockovich is on the verge of poverty in 1993. A stroke of luck presents itself in the form of a car accident and neck injury, leading her to the law office of Ed Masry (Albert Finney). In court, Erin’s twice-divorced, unemployed, and single-mother status doesn’t stand a chance against the elite, white male professional who crashed into her. The jury’s eyes quickly shift from gazes of empathy to daggers of condescension. Erin continuously voices her unfair treatment and refuses to leave Masry’s law office after he fails to return her calls, stating “there are two things that annoy me--being ignored and being lied to.” Exhausted by her perseverance, Masry offers Brockovich a job within his law firm.
Solidifying a file clerk position, Brockovich takes it upon herself to investigate medical records coinciding with real estate files, uncovering a correlation between drinking water and residents who are exposed to Hexavalent Chromium, a fatal carcinogen which can generate various forms of cancer. Despite no formal education in law, Brockovich’s sharp memory and tenacious grit drives her to challenge PG&E while partnering with Masry to dig deeper into the scandal that’s causing thousands of residents to fall ill.
Criticized for her style of clothing, winsome physique, and affinity for curse words, the ferocious zest of Brockovich shines through Roberts’ performance. When Masry confronts Brockovich about her choice of clothing, she retorts that she wears what she thinks looks nice on her. She promptly recites a random plaintiff’s contact information, along with full backstory, when her ability to correctly document information is questioned by Masry’s legal partners. Brockovich also stands her ground and refuses to conform to societal expectations when her live-in boyfriend complains about her long working hours and the customary household role reversal he has assumed.
While Erin Brockovich comes from an average background, her struggles of adversity are also shared with women from affluent backgrounds. Katherine Graham (played by Meryl Streep) is the subject of the upcoming political drama The Post, in which she faces the final decision on whether or not to publish sections of the Pentagon Papers--internal communications about the Vietnam War that were stolen and copied by military analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys). Since the New York Times has already published a portion of the papers, the Nixon administration halts their advancement claiming a threat to national security, which allows The Washington Post to continue the publication in the name of free press.
Graham’s father, Eugene Meyer, buys The Washington Post in 1933; and in 1946 he hands over the newspaper to her husband, Philip Graham. Verbally abusive towards Katherine and battling mental illness, Phillip commits suicide in 1963 with an impending divorce on the horizon resulting from his infidelity. These circumstances lead to Katherine assuming leadership of The Post.
Affiliated with such wealthy individuals as Warren Buffet and Henry Kissinger, Katherine is not accustomed to the chain-smoking male office for which she takes the reins. She often struggles with confidence in her abilities while fighting to be taken seriously by her male colleagues. When told to join other women in the powder room, she stands her ground to stay and discuss business with the men thus igniting a passion for workplace equality. She and executive editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) eventually defy a federal judge and risk jail time along with the continuation of The Post in order to publish the papers.
Both films depict women who risk everything in order to simply do what is right. Not only do Erin Brockovich and The Post illustrate two fearless female role models, they display a healthy, respectful working relationship with their male counterparts. The dynamic between Brockovich and Masry is built on mutual support as Masry does not use his power against her, but instead encourages growth, listens, and supports her while she navigates a tangled legal system. Similarly, Graham and Bradlee’s relationship is anchored in professional respect and partnership. These women flourish in the workplace more rapidly, thanks in part to men who see them for their brains and bravery instead of reducing them merely to their physical bodies.
Through Brockovich’s pursuit of truth, PG&E awards residents $333 million, the largest settlement ever paid in a direct-action lawsuit in U.S. history. Graham upholds the integrity of free press and is pivotal in the Watergate scandal alongside Nixon’s resignation. Additionally, she becomes the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company and receives numerous awards including the Presidential Medal of Honor in 2002 while her autobiography, Personal History, receives the 1998 Pulitzer Prize.
These films highlight women who went against the grain in every sense while shattering societal expectations and corporate wrongdoings. The expectation of women to conform to the male ego still lingers like a shadow. However, films like Erin Brockovich and The Post serve as reminders that speaking your truth and passionately fighting to simply do what is right for the betterment of society can ultimately improve the world.