The writer-director also told POLITICO in an interview that she didn’t initially pay attention to Winner’s news coverage until a New York magazine article led her to a POLITICO link. “There was something that said ‘Read about the day Reality was visited at her home by the FBI’…like, whoa, that’s a weird story,” recalls Satter.
That moment is the fateful interrogation of Winner at the hands of three FBI agents, who secured a confession from the 26-year-old intelligence analyst in June of 2017 by earning her trust and neglecting to read Winner her Miranda rights. .
« Reality » plays with the concept in its namesake. She draws her dialogue entirely from the 80-page transcript of the conversation at Winner’s home that afternoon, which would earn her the longest sentence ever for leaking classified media: five years in federal prison.
The 83-minute drama also unfolds in near real time. Satter said he wanted to strip viewers of any assumptions they had about Winner, who was the subject of extensive media coverage at the time.
« Because it’s an interrogation, there’s this expository nature where she herself tells you about her relationship with the service, because she’s learned the languages she’s learned, it all comes out, » Satter said.
If the film tries to take a stand on its leading lady, played by actress Sydney Sweeney, it’s not about right or wrong. Even Satter admits he has mixed feelings towards Winner.
“I wanted her to be portrayed in all the complicated royal myths of who she is and what action she took,” Satter said. « It’s up to people to get their feelings out of this. »
There is no doubt that Winner broke the law. He only claims that he did it for idealistic reasons: namely, to clarify any doubts that Russian President Vladimir Putin stepped in to support former President Donald Trump’s candidacy during the 2016 US presidential election.
The then president and his allies in the conservative media at the time denied those allegations, despite protests from the US intelligence community. The winner wanted to set the record straight. It’s not clear that he ever did.
The single intelligence assessment Winner revealed did little to answer the all-important question about the impact Russia’s influence campaign had on American voters.
She was never able to get more information out due to missteps at The Intercept and, therefore, her interrogation. She was in handcuffs before the first leak was even made public.
As with many leakers and whistleblowers, Winner’s actions raise important questions about the right balance between truth and secrecy in a democracy. But his case is unique in that he hasn’t been much, good or bad.
Billie Winner-Davis, the mom of Reality, told POLITICO that her daughter « regrets her actions » for this very reason: « I hear her saying that nothing has changed, that it wasn’t worth it. »
This marks a stark contrast to the recently deceased whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, who blew the lid on the lies fueling the war in Vietnam, as well as more complicated figures like Edward Snowden, who revealed reams of sensitive information about spies, diplomats and American allies.
Behind the leak is the leaker. Satter said another important piece of her story is why Winner—who came from a lower-middle-class family—got away with such a harsh sentence, while others who found themselves in similar positions , no.
This question is increasingly on Americans’ minds as Trump faces federal criminal charges for violating the same law, the Espionage Act, as did Winner. Trump has disclosed far more sensitive information than the NSA linguist, but his previous role, current influence, and presidential ambitions will affect how his case is prosecuted.
It’s an understanding of those dynamics that Satter hopes viewers glean from the film.
« It matters who you are and who you know when you get into trouble, » she said. « The imbalance of power and connections in this country, and then how the punishment system works, is just insane. »