On June 2017, Reality Leigh Winner, a 25-year-old American intelligence specialist, returned home to an unexpected and unsettling sight. Outside her residence in Augusta, Georgia, two stern-faced FBI agents awaited, casting a foreboding shadow over her world. Little did she know that the next 104 minutes would forever alter the course of her life, as she found herself ensnared in a web of suspicion regarding her alleged involvement in mishandling classified information connected to Russian interference in the 2016 election.

In Max’s (formally HBO Max) gripping new film, “Reality,” the audience is drawn into those tense minutes that lead to Reality’s life-changing for the worse. Starring Sydney Sweeney in the role of Reality Winner, the movie is crafted directly from the verbatim transcript of Winner’s actual FBI interrogation.

What is the movie about? 

While the official synopsis of the film states, “A former American intelligence specialist is given the longest sentence for the unauthorized release of government information to the media about Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections via an email operation,” confining the movie to just that would be misleading you.

In fact, the movie is about the said specialist, but it is a single-location chamber piece about the tense situation that occurred when two FBI agents showed up at Reality Winner’s doorstep unannounced.

High On Films in collaboration with Avanté

The film follows this claustrophobic situation where the agents take over Reality’s home and start questioning her about her involvement as a whistleblower who leaked confidential information, jeopardizing the stability of a then-Trump government. 

The plot of Reality takes place over the course of a single afternoon, during which Winner is interrogated before her arrest. The dialogues of the film claim to have used the FBI transcript that is available in the public domain and dramatize the event based on those recordings. 

Sydney Sweeney as Reality Winner in HBO Max's movie 'Reality.'
Sydney Sweeney as Reality Winner in HBO Max’s movie ‘Reality.’

Is the movie ‘‘Reality’ based on a true story? 

Yes. Reality is, in fact, based on a true story. The film is about Reality Winner – —an ex-U.S. Marine and former National Security Agency (NSA) translator who leaked classified documents to the new organization ‘The Intercept’ in 2017. 

This document contained classified information that laid bare the intricate web of Russian military cybersecurity attacks targeting American voting software and local election officials leading up to the pivotal 2016 election. The implications of this revelation were profound, challenging the very essence of democracy and raising profound questions about the integrity of electoral processes.

Reality is based on writer-director Tina Satter’s play, “Is This A Room?” That uses dialogues directly from a transcript of the official FBI investigation. The director decided to develop these recordings into a play because she believed that the happening in those recordings was worth playing out. 

What crime was she accused of? 

Reality Winner, a former U.S. Air Force translator and contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA) made the audacious decision to print out a single classified document, clandestinely removing it from the secure confines of the federal facility in Georgia where she worked, and subsequently mailing it to the news outlet The Intercept.

In a revealing interview with 60 Minutes in 2021, Winner shed light on the motivations that propelled her to leak the report. Her unwavering belief that the American people were being misled fueled her resolve. Winner recognized the classified nature of the document but still decided to do it because she believed that it was the right thing to do. It was at that moment in time when she perceived a divergence between truth and the path the nation was traversing.

Regrettably, The Intercept, the news outlet to which Winner disclosed the classified information, faced widespread criticism for its handling of the leak. By sending a copy of the document, complete with a telltale crease revealing its physical printing, to the NSA, the publication inadvertently exposed Winner as the anonymous source. This misstep enabled the FBI to narrow down the pool of potential leakers to a mere six individuals. The crucial breakthrough came when investigators discovered that Winner had emailed The Intercept using her work computer, ultimately leading them to identify her as the source.

Winner’s arrest unfolded just two days before The Intercept published the document along with an in-depth exposé outlining its significance on June 5, 2017. The reverberations were swift, as the Justice Department wasted no time in announcing that Winner faced charges under the Espionage Act, catapulting her into the spotlight as a symbol of the legal and ethical complexities surrounding whistleblowing and national security.

Reality Winner and her mother (Source: The Texas Observer).

What happened to Reality Winner?

In 2018, Reality Winner decided to make the difficult decision to plead guilty as part of a plea deal. This marked a significant chapter in her story, as she became the first person prosecuted during the Trump administration on charges of leaking classified information— an act that reverberated through the halls of power. She was sentenced to prison for five years and three months. 

2021 saw Winner’s release from prison, attributed to her good behavior behind bars. However, her journey to freedom is not without roadblocks because she has been placed under parole until November 2024, with a series of strict restrictions. She is prohibited from engaging with the press or participating in social media, and she must seek prior approval for even the most mundane errands outside her home.

While she was incarcerated, Winner contracted COVID-19 during a massive outbreak within the facility. Additionally, she filed a sexual assault case against a guard, further highlighting the challenges she faced during her time behind bars.

High On Films in collaboration with Avanté

Presently, Winner’s days are spent in the sanctuary of her home, where she engages in online yoga classes and contributes as a part-time researcher for a documentary. 

Is ‘Reality’ starring Sydney Sweeney available to stream on Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max, Hulu, or Prime Video? 

Yes. Since ‘Reality’ starring Sydney Sweeny is an HBO Original Film, you can stream it on Max (formerly HBO Max). After premiering at the 2023 Berlinale to great critical acclaim, the film was released on HBO’s OTT service on May 29th, 2023. If you have a Max subscription, you can stream the movie for free. 

Similar Posts