by Jason Howard Kelly
via Julie Zellinger for Identities.Mic:
Though beloved for her talent, Academy Award-winning actress Meryl Streep doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to speaking publicly about race. Streep demonstrated this again on Thursday when, in response to a question about diversity at the Berlin International Film Festival, Streep stated that “We’re all Africans, really,” according to an Associated Press tweet.
The actress, who is the festival’s jury president, acknowledged that although the Festival’s panel is all white, “at least women are included and in fact dominate this jury, and that’s an unusual situation in bodies of people who make decisions,” according to Mashable.
So, that’s not great. Meryl Streep essentially just claimed that white people and black people are equal and that they share a culture and experiences, which we all know is extremely false. The worst part, however, is the timing of this comment. The Oscars are just a few weeks away and the leading topic heading into the biggest awards ceremony of the year is the lack of diversity in the film industry. This issue has escalated to a point where several Hollywood personalities, such as Will and Jada Smith, have elected to boycott the show all-together.
Unfortunately, as great of an actor and advocate for women as Meryl is, this is not the first time she has caused controversy surrounding race issues. Late last year Streep was photographed for TIME magazine to promote the film Suffragette in which she played Emmeline Pankhurst, an icon of the feminist movement in the early 1900’s. In the cover photo Streep is wearing a white shirt which displays Pankhurst’s famous quote, “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave.”
Meryl Streep for TIME Magazine / via http://www.mic.com
This drew the ire of many people in the black community, primarily because the suffragist movement was controlled and dominated by white women, while black women were intentionally excluded.
It is fairly safe to assume that Maryl Streep is not intentionally trying to offend anybody with her actions and comments. However, she does have a troubling tendency to do or say things that make even her biggest supporters think, “What on earth are you doing?” Hopefully her latest verbal faux pas leads to something positive and we, as a society, can use it as a learning opportunity to help advance the discussion of diversity and racial equality in film.