Meryl Streep wasn’t honored at the National Board of Review gala, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t make a splash at the ceremony. Streep attended the NBR awards to present an award to Emma Thompson, who took home the honor of Best Actress. Streep seemed proud to honor Thompson, a friend and colleague currently receiving praise for her role as P.L. Travers in Saving Mr. Banks.
The most interest part of Streep’s speech about Thompson was when the August: Osage County actress took Walt Disney up to task at length. Streep took to the stage wearing a cap which said, “Prize Winner” before removing the hat. That’s when Streep got down to business.
She presented an option to the audience. She was either going to make a long tribute or a short tribute to Thompson. The audience voted for the long speech, but probably weren’t expecting the sounding off by a woman who has a deserved reputation in the business. Either way, it proved to be the most entertaining moment of the ceremony.
“Disney, who brought joy, arguably, to billions of people, was perhaps, or had some…racist proclivities. He formed and supported an anti-Semitic industry lobby. And he was certainly, on the evidence of his company’s policies, a gender bigot,” said Streep.
Calling herself a “man eating feminist” who shared this quality with her Angels in America co-star, Streep went on to read Disney”s response to a 1938 application submitted by Mary Ford for the training program in cartooning.
“Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen, as that task is performed entirely by young men. For this reason, girls are not considered for the training school. The only work open to women consists of tracing the characters on clear celluloid sheets with India ink, and then filling in the tracing on the reverse side with paint, according to the directions.”
Streep continued, keeping her long-winded speech relevant to Emma Thompson’s portrayal of P.L. Travels, but also took another shot at Disney.
“When I saw the film, I could just imagine Walt Disney’s chagrin at having to cultivate P.L. Travers’ favor for 20 years that it took to secure the rights to her work. It must have killed him to encounter, in a woman, an equally disdainful and superior creature, a person dismissive of his own, considerable gifts and prodigious output and imagination.”
Of Thompson’s formidable job in portraying P.L., Streep said:
“Nobody can swashbuckle a quick-witted riposte like Emma Thompson. She’s a writer, a real writer, and she has a relish for the well-chosen word. But some of the most sublime moments in Saving Mr. Banks are completely wordless. They live in the transitions where P.L. traverses from her public face to her private spaces.”
In a season where many backs are patted, and statements seem to be self-congratulatory, Meryl Streep always keeps it real.