There have been a number of high profile whistleblowers in very recent times – Julian Assange founded Wikileaks and of course, there’s been Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, so I thought we could look at some past and present real life whistleblowers in the movies. I think this kind of movie is quite interesting because they try and help us understand why these people were so compelled to release information that is not only damaging to the party being leaked about, but also leads to personal condemnation and vilification from some quarters. I think whistleblowers believe they are doing it for the greater good. Why not judge for yourself with these whistleblowers in the movies.
1 The Fifth EState
Let’s start with the most recent portrayal of whistleblowers in the movies. So recent in fact, I haven’t yet seen it. Current hottie and star of the moment, Benedict Cumberbatch plays Julian Assange the founder of Wikileaks. The story is about the goings on at Wikileaks, how it became a worldwide platform for whistleblowers everywhere and anywhere, and the decision to leak some of the most damming US documents. I wonder if Julian Assange has watched the movie from the safety of the Ecuador Embassy in London where he is claiming asylum and fighting extradition.
Among the few movie whistleblowers who are women, Silkwood is the story of Karen Silkwood, played by Meryl Streep. The film is said to be an accurate retelling of the facts that are publicly known. Silkwood was probably murdered but certainly purposely contaminated while she was a metallurgy worker at the Kerr-McGill plant in Oklahoma that processed plutonium. She had blown the whistle on unsafe working practices at the plant.
We’d all like to think that people who have sworn to protect us and uphold what’s right (and legal) do exactly that. It seems all the more shocking when public servants and those we put our trust and faith in are shown to be corrupt. Frank Serpico was a New York police officer who blew the whistle on the corruption within the force. Instead of being “on the take” like his fellow officers, he outed them and became an outcast. Won’t tell you what happened because it is a fascinating story that I hope you will watch. Al Pacino won critical acclaim for his portrayal of the main character, also earning an Oscar nomination.
4 All the President’s Men
Probably the most famous scandal in history! When it comes to whistleblowers in the movies, and in real life, you don’t get much bigger than bringing down the President of the United States. All The President’s Men is the story of the two Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) and Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) who followed a minor lead which lead them to “Deep Throat” and eventually scandal at the White House. It’s a movie you have to concentrate on as much of it is dialogue between the two reporters as their brains are whirring with what is unfolding before them. The film won 4 Oscars from 7 nominations.
5 The Whistleblower
I watched this just recently and it was a story I hadn’t heard of previously. There have been plenty of scandals involving sex down the years – the Profumo Affair in the UK, the Lewinksi incident in the US, so it was only a matter of time until another unsavoury sexual incident became another of the movies about whistleblowers. The Whistleblower tells the story of Kathryn Bolkovac (played by Rachel Weisz). Once a Nebraska cop, Bolkovac joined the peacekeeping force in post-war Bosnia and blew the whistle on a sex trafficking ring which was being covered up by the United Nations.
6 The Insider
So we’ve done political scandal and sex scandal and security scandal, now it’s time to move onto big business. Very few industries spawn huge companies in the way the tobacco business does. The insider brings us the tale of Jeffrey Wigand (played by Russell Crowe) who on a 60 Minutes exposé revealed that his bosses (Brown and Williamson) had manipulated the tobacco blend for it to contain more nicotine. After harassment and death threats, Wigand is now a campaigner, expert witness and lecturer on tobacco issues.
7 The Informant
Still in the business world, this movie turns its attention to agriculture. In 1992, Mark Whitacre was president of the Bioproducts division of Archer Daniels Midland when he became an insider spy for the FBI who were investigating the company for price fixing. The story gets complicated when Whitacre is accused of embezzlement and sentenced to prison. If you’re interested in finding out more about the consequences of this whistleblower’s actions, read up on the class action case against ADM. And, it was all over high-fructose corn syrup! (well a bit more actually, in reality).
Is this a subject matter that interests you? Are whistleblowers saints or villains?