Hollywood A-listers Steven Soderbergh and Meryl Streep have spoken out against the secrecy of tax havens and lauded the bravery of the journalists who expose corruption at the opening of Panama Papers-inspired movie, The Laundromat.
The movie, which premiered on Sunday at the Venice International Film Festival, explores the world of tax havens and complex offshore financial structures through the eyes of Panamanian lawyers Jürgen Mossack and Ramón Fonseca, played by Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas.
Their eponymous law firm, Mossack Fonseca, was at the heart of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ 2016 Panama Papers investigation, which revealed how politicians, celebrities, criminals and the global elite obscured their wealth and conducted questionable business deals through hard-to-trace companies and tax havens. More than 350 journalists from 80 countries worked together to uncover secrets hidden in a trove of 11.5 million leaked Mossack Fonseca files.
The Laundromat, directed by Soderbergh and written by Scott Z. Burns for Netflix films, draws on a book by reporter Jake Bernstein, Secrecy World: Inside the Panama Papers Investigation of Illicit Money Networks and the Global Elite.
Speaking at a press conference at the film’s premiere, Streep, who plays justice-seeking protagonist Ellen Martin, paid tribute to the journalists who worked on the Panama Papers and praised the bravery of reporters like Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was murdered in Malta during an investigation based on the leak.
i loved when she brought this up, it's really important to highlight thispic.twitter.com/QNyet2Qh3V
— 🥀 (@iheartstreep) September 2, 2019
“The reason this, the Panama Papers, was exported to the world was because of the work of over 300 investigative journalists who got the word of John Doe, the whistleblower … out into the world,” Streep said. “Some people died for it … And people die still to get the word out. This movie is fun, it’s funny, but it’s really, really, really important.”
Streep’s character, Ellen Martin, is a retiree whose husband dies in an accident aboard a tourist boat. A bungled insurance pay-out prompts Martin to seek answers, and ultimately leads her into the murky world of tax havens. The movie strings together a cast of colorful characters to illustrate various, outrageous ways in which offshore finance facilitates wrongdoing.
“This is an entertaining, flash, funny way of telling a very, very dark, black-hearted joke – a joke that’s being played on all of us,” Streep said.
Soderbergh said the film’s comedic treatment attempts to use the complexities of offshore schemes as the “setup for a punchline.” He hoped the absurdist treatment of this serious topic would prompt discussion and drive reforms.
“I think the system has to change,” he said. “Transparency is the only solution.”
The Laundromat will be released in select U.S. theaters starting September 27 before making its global debut on Netflix on October 18, 2019.