The true story behind Sydney Sweeney’s new whistleblower movie Reality

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Published Jun 1, 2023 at 05:42 PM

Reading time: 4 minutes

In a world where truth can be stranger than fiction, certain stories emerge that capture our collective attention, and for good reason. That’s the case with HBO’s new movie Reality, which already came out on 29 May 2023 in the US and is set to hit UK screens tomorrow, Friday 2 June. Featuring gen Z’s current favourite actress Sydney Sweeney as the lead role, the drama tells the story of National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower, Reality Winner.

From the ins and outs of the Russian interference in the 2016 US elections and how it inspired Reality to the inside scoops we’ve gathered on the behind the scenes of the shoot, here’s everything you need to know about the upcoming film.

What is the movie ‘Reality about?

As mentioned below, Reality recounts the true and fascinating story of Winner, a former intelligence specialist who captivated the world when she fearlessly exposed classified information in the name of public interest.

Winner began working at the young age of 19 when she joined the US Air Force, where she quickly distinguished herself as a force to be reckoned with. In 2016, her unparalleled skills earned her the prestigious Commendation Medal for “aiding in 650 enemy captures, 600 enemies killed in action and identifying 900 high value targets.”

But as Reality proves it, Winner’s fearlessness goes far beyond the battlefield. The American Air Force member was fluent in not just one, but three Afghan and Iranian languages—Pasho, Dari, and Farsi. These linguistic abilities not only led Winner to become an NSA translator, but they also added an extra layer of intrigue and depth to her persona.

As the gripping tale of Reality unfolds on the silver screen, brace yourself for a film that delves deep into the heart and mind of a true trailblazer, a woman who shattered barriers and defied expectations in her unwavering pursuit of truth and justice.

At the age of 26, Winner made history as the first individual to be charged by the Trump administration under the Espionage Act for leaking an intelligence report about Russia’s interference in the 2016 US presidential elections to the news website The Intercept. As part of a plea agreement, she pleaded guilty to the charges.

The document leaked by Winner revealed that Russian military intelligence had hacked at least one voting software supplier and had attempted to breach over 100 local election systems leading up to the 2016 polling day. This disclosure shed light on the extent of Russian interference in the electoral process, raising concerns about the security and integrity of the democratic system.

Where is Reality Winner now?

Following Winner’s arrest in June 2017, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange called on the public to support her, offering a $10,000 reward for information about a reporter for The Intercept who had allegedly helped the US government identify Winner as the perpetrator of the leak.

Assange wrote on Twitter that “Winner is no Clapper or Petraeus with ‘elite immunity’. She’s a young woman against the wall for talking to the press.”

On 29 August, Winner’s attorneys filed a motion in district court to suppress her statements to law enforcement, arguing that she was not read her Miranda rights before being interrogated by the FBI. On 5 October, Judge Brian Epps denied a second request from her defence attorneys that bail be set.

The Intercept later reported that Winner’s defence team was allowed to discuss the case with her, including its classified aspects, in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF). First Look, the parent company of The Intercept, helped fund her defence, and as of September 2020 was still paying her legal bills.

Winner’s plea agreement with prosecutors called for her to serve five years and three months in prison followed by three years of supervised release. No one has ever received a longer sentence for leaking classified information to a media outlet.

On 24 April  2020, a federal judge rejected Winner’s request to commute the remaining 19 months of her 63-month sentence and be released to home confinement due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, her lawyer argued that her history of respiratory illness and immune system compromised by bulimia made her highly vulnerable to the virus. Two inmates tested positive before Winner was transferred to the federal medical center where she was housed to meet her special needs.

Despite having voiced her distaste for him previously, Reality wanted Trump to pardon her but no such clemency was awarded. In 2021, she was transferred from prison to a transitional facility in San Antonio, Texas on account of good behaviour. As of December 2022, Reality was still on probation and living in Texas.

How does Sydney Sweeeny’s new role differ from her previous parts?

One of the most anticipated aspects of Reality is the transformation of everyone’s favourite Euphoria internet princess. Fans have definitely been eagerly awaiting Sweeney’s transformation in the new drama—yearning to see the actress break free from her intense and chaotic role in Sam Levinson’s teen drama fever dream.

In Reality, Sweeney steps out of the sparkle and into a completely different realm of storytelling. We get to see the actress take on a far more dramatic character, one whose outfit is giving more demure hardware worker than weekend party girl.

Based on early feedback, it seems as though Sweeney has not disappointed. Her portrayal of Winner has been hailed as a testament to her incredible talent, proving that she can effortlessly navigate complex characters and leave a lasting impact on the audiences. With all of the other projects she has lined up for this year, it’s unlikely to think that the actress’ widespread reputation will start and end at Euphoria.

This captivating film pushes the boundaries of transparency, urging us to question the price individuals must pay for standing up for their beliefs. As we immerse ourselves in Winner’s world, we can’t help but confront the ethical and moral dilemmas faced by modern-day whistleblowers.

Reality is a film that’ll definitely leave you wanting more—expect to be conspiracy theory and whistleblower obsessed. Prepare for intense debates with your friends, online Reddit deep dives, and an overall questioning of the entire American legal and political system. Oh, and if you’re wondering if Sweeney can pull off quite literally the blandest fit in the world, spoiler alert, she can.

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