Meryl Streep is the latest Hollywood actress to put their foot in their mouth when speaking about diversity and inclusion in Hollywood, according to the Associated Press. Everyone from Charlotte Rampling to Kristen Stewart has broached the subject, garnering harsh criticism for their responses. Streep, a three-time Oscar winner, is a member of the Berlin International Film Festival judging panel, and though it consists of a majority of women, every person on the panel is white. Meryl was asked about this and the kinds of films they will be watching, and her response set off social media, primarily because it was just the wrong thing to say.
Dear #MerylStreep, please leave pronouncements on diversity to people who don't pretend for a living.
— Anton O'Murchú (@irrpfad) February 11, 2016
“The thing that I notice is that there is a core of humanity that travels right through every culture,” Meryl Streep said. “And after all, we’re all from Africa originally, you know. We’re all Berliners; we’re all Africans, really.”
Meryl Streep is a feminist, no doubt, and she would absolutely be the first one to admit that, and there’s actually nothing wrong with that – except when you make comments like this. It is highly doubtful that Meryl Streep would be identifying as African anywhere else, in any other situation outside of the context of this conversation. Only during a conversation like this will she attempt to reclaim the “all of humanity came from Africa” line. People of color are, yet again, being pushed out of the conversation.
“This jury is evidence that at least women are included and in fact dominate this jury, and that’s an unusual situation in bodies of people who make decisions, So I think the Berlinale (the film festival) is ahead of the game.”
— Dwayne David Paul (@DwayneDavidPaul) February 11, 2016
Streep makes herself very clear in that last statement. “At least women” – it doesn’t matter what ethnicity, as long as they’re women. Which might mean something if the women on the panel were not all white. And if the women in the Time Out London Suffragette photo were not all white. Not to mention the fact that the T-shirts worn in this photo, while being the actual words of British suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst, are highly problematic.
Meryl Streep, Emma Watson, Jennifer Lawrence, Julie Delpy, and even Nancy Lee Grahn are all part of a growing problem in Hollywood and America in general: white feminism. These women are not specifically choosing to associate with white women and intentionally ignoring women of color, but what they are doing is still a big problem. When feminism becomes a topic of discussion, the face of that movement is usually white. Women of color are edged out — even women within the LGBT community and women who fall into both intersections. White feminism is the erasure of intersectionality – ignoring women of color, for example.
A white woman in Hollywood has one strike against her: her gender. A black actress, like Viola Davis, or Indian, like Mindy Kaling, have two strikes against them: their gender and ethnicity. And a woman like Wanda Sykes has three strikes against her, being a black lesbian. She has to endure racism, sexism, and homophobia – in some cases, all at once. These are the intersections that are ignored when white feminism steps in. It is exactly what Nancy Lee Grahn did when she got upset over Viola Davis’ Emmy speech last year.
“The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity,” Viola said during her acceptance speech, and this set Grahn off.
“Im a f–king actress for 40 yrs. None of us get respect or opportunity we deserve. Emmys not venue 4 racial opportunity. ALL women belittled,” she tweeted in response to what Davis wrote.
In her tweet, she is ignoring the fact that Viola Davis is black and is basically saying that it’s irrelevant. As if women of color do not face discrimination because of the color of their skin – only their gender. How dare you mention your ethnicity!
Perhaps even a better, more recent example would be Beyonce’s “Formation” video/Super Bowl performance. She wanted to acknowledge her culture and ethnicity, and now has people boycotting her tour and completely disowning her. Because she was proud to be black. Apparently, performing a song in which you use the word “negro” is highly problematic during a football game, where a team called the Washington Redskins causes its fans to dress up like Native Americans.
— Shadow+Space+Light (@archct) February 12, 2016
Meryl Streep dug herself even deeper into this whole when an Egyptian reporter asked about her knowledge of Arab and North African films.
The actress replied, “I’ve played a lot of different people from a lot of different cultures,” as if that was a sufficient response.
And sadly, it seems as if she did not see how problematic that statement was. These intersections – ethnicity, culture, sexuality, gender identity – are all important components in an individual’s life, and they deserve to be acknowledged. Not erased, just so you can avoid the question and move on.
[Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images]