When Steven Spielberg signed on to direct The Post in March, he planned to kick off production in May and have the retelling of the Washington Post‘s 1971 decision to publish the Pentagon Papers ready in time for a December release.
“We wanted to tell a true story about a time when an administration attempted through the courts to squash the free press, and at the pleasure of the Nixon administration, stopped facts and the truth from being disseminated to the American people to the world,” Spielberg, 71, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue.
The three-time Oscar winner sees the “scary parallels” between the 1970s events and today’s White House, which has repeatedly attacked the press, deemed outlets and stories “fake news” and endorsed “alternative facts.”
For more about Steven Spielberg and The Post pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now.
“The relevance of this story is obvious,” he says. “But our movie shows that sometimes hardship is really the rehearsal for the big show, meaning the Pentagon Papers turned into the Watergate investigation. And yet we survived. If we remember that we are all patriots instead of partisan, we will eventually all come out the other side of this.”
RELATED VIDEO: Donald Trump Calls SNL Portrayal A “Hit Job”
The Post’s Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) and Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) serve as early examples of Americans who risked serious government retaliation (the New York Times had received an injunction from the Nixon administration against printing more of the then-classified Pentagon Papers) in order to give the public the information they thought it deserved.
“Both Kay Graham and Ben Bradlee were patriots because they put their country and the truth first at great personal and professional risks,” Spielberg explains. “I really believe that this day in age, truth tellers are heroes. And look in today’s world where some would have us believe there is no difference between beliefs and facts, I think Kay Graham’s action reminds us the facts are the foundation of truth. That’s sort of why I made the movie.”
As the Me Too movement continues to gain support, Graham — the Washington Post‘s first female publisher and the first Fortune 500 CEO — also offers a look at a woman who triumphed against the odds. “There were a bunch of glass ceilings that have been broken ever since our country was founded,” Spielberg says. “But one of the most significant glass ceilings is what Katharine Graham had to smash through.”
And he insists, “Had this movie been made during the Obama administration or had it been made during the Bush administration or the Clinton administration, I think Katharine Graham would’ve still taken on hero status.”
The Post is in theaters now.