From ‘Shattered Glass’ to shattered glass ceilings: 5 films that capture the power of journalism

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Photo credit: Nina Sperling

This graphic image contains promotional posters for five journalism films I believe are inspiring and powerful. These films range from the classic “All the President’s Men,” which was revolutionary for the way it depicted journalism, to “Bad Education,” which emphasizes the power of student journalism in schools. (Graphic Illustration by Nina Sperling)

By Nina Sperling, Senior Reporter

I remember watching “All the President’s Men” with my parents, being fascinated by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein‘s grit as they searched for new information regarding the Watergate scandal. I also remember being scared when Woodward met with “Deep Throat” in the dark parking garage because I was 10 years old. Even before joining The Oracle, stories like these motivated me and fed my passion for journalism and social justice. Below are some of these films that I have particularly enjoyed.

1) “All the President’s Men” (1976)

The Watergate scandal was a defining moment in journalistic history. Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) uncovered the Nixon Administration’s involvement in a break-in at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. Their reporting led to arrests of high-level White House aids, congressional investigations and President Nixon’s resignation from office.

The Academy Award-winning thriller is one of the most well-known films to showcase investigative journalism, rather than what happened during the event itself. One major reason why films such as “All the President’s Men” are so powerful is because you can feel the reporters’ anticipation, pressure and relief as they gradually uncovered the story.

2) “Spotlight” (2015)  

Academy Award winner “Spotlight” is one of the greatest journalism films of all time. The film follows reporters in the The Boston Globe‘s Spotlight section as they expose decades of sexual abuse of children and the subsequent cover-ups inside the Catholic Church. As the reporters continually discovered the depth of the abuse in Boston, it was painful to think that, in reality, this represents only a fraction of the abuse that was occurring around the world.

Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Liev Schreiber and John Slattery all amazingly capture that, as stated in a Collider article, “These are just regular people — nerds, frankly — who live in middle class houses, drink unhealthy amounts of coffee and know how to report the news.”

The film is enthralling in that it portrays the emotional intensity the reporters felt while completing interviews, research and uncovering the story. The journalists’ unrelenting determination to reveal the truth inspired real change and shattered decades of silence, which is one of the many reasons why I loved “Spotlight.”

3) “She Said” (2022)

New York Times journalists Meghan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) shattered decades of silence by publishing their story, uncovering former film producer and convicted sex offender Harvey Weinstein‘s history of sexual abuse and misconduct towards women.

“She Said” follows their deeply intense and captivating journey to the truth about Weinstein’s behavior. They stayed dedicated, resilient and determined despite having to face all of the obstacles that Weinstein attempted to put in place such as non-disclosure agreements, silencing survivors with money and tough lawyers who had attorney-client privilege. Many of the real life accusers and survivors were even involved in the film, both on and off screen, including actress Ashley Judd, who played herself.

I was extremely inspired by “She Said” and seeing women work together and support each other in taking down powerful people. The film is a true model of the power of moxie.

4) “Shattered Glass” (2003)

When you see “Shattered Glass,” you will not believe it is a real story. Stephen Glass (Hayden Christensen) was a reporter for The New Republic from 1995 until 1998. He was known for his extremely detailed and entertaining stories that he published, but now he is known for fabricating them all.

In the film, Glass visits his old high school and recounts his downfall as a reputable journalists to a class, but gradually he begins to challenge the viewers’ perception of what is real and what is not. After Forbes magazine finds inaccuracies in one of Glass’s stories, the magazine and his own colleagues even begin to question whether Glass is really the superstar writer they think he is.

Here is a great article written by Glass’s former colleague, but it contains some spoilers, so you might want to wait until after watching the film to read it.

While the other films in this list feature journalists exposing groundbreaking stories, “Shattered Glass” is powerful in that it weighs the question of where the line is between integrity and entertaining stories.

5) “Bad Education” (2019)

Rebekah Rombom is one of the few people who can say she broke a national news story as a student journalist. In 2004, Rombom discovered that top administrators in her school district, at Roslyn High School in New York, had been embezzling tax payer money for years.

The film “Bad Education,” written by another Roslyn High School alumnus, is based on the embezzlement scandal, with Allison Janney and Hugh Jackman playing the top administrators. Although “Bad Education” is primarily filmed from the administrators’ perspective, it heavily features Rachel Bhargava (Geraldine Viswanathan), Rombom’s film counterpart, as she uncovers the scandal. “Bad Education” demonstrates the power that student journalists have as checks on top school officials and to create change through their reporting.

In real life, after publishing her big scoop, Rombom even wrote an article for the New York Times on her journey to uncovering the story.

Any viewer will be pulled in by the emotional intensity of these films even from the beginning. These films are all important to watch because they highlight the moxie, determination, resilience and fortitude that it takes to uncover the truth and share it with the world.