With the whole of North America facing upcoming elections — Canada’s is October 19 while the United States is set to elect a new president in 2016 — it comes as no surprise that the right to vote is a hot topic lately. Meryl Streep, who is starring in the upcoming flick Suffragette, has come under fire recently due to a photo shoot where she and other cast members from Suffragette are wearing T-shirts that say, “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave.”
However, as Selma director Ava DuVernay pointed out, the Meryl Streep photo lacked context because it was only one part of a quote from suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst.
The quote in context states, “Know that women, once convinced that they are doing what is right, that their rebellion is just, will go on, no matter what the difficulties, no matter what the dangers, so long as there is a woman alive to hold up the flag of rebellion. I would rather be a rebel than a slave.”
DuVernay noted that the quote was inarticulate, according to Cosmopolitan, but added that the quote brought a conversation about different perspectives and the importance of listening back to the surface. Others, however, were not so welcoming of the dialogue that Meryl Streep and her Suffragette castmates opened.
I cringed when I saw the t-shirt on the cast of Suffragette. Hard to fight the #feminismsowhite narrative with that one.— Melissa Silverstein (@melsil) October 6, 2015
Meryl Streep has to know better. And if not, her publicist should have.— deray mckesson (@deray) October 5, 2015
However, there are others who realized the context of the quote featured on Meryl Streep’s shirt and questioned why the actress would not be allowed to use the quote to help promote her movie.
Time Out, the magazine which invited Meryl Streep and her castmates to wear the T-shirts with the quote for a photo shoot, said in a statement that “it is a rallying cry, and absolutely not intended to criticise those who have no choice but to submit to oppression, or to reference the Confederacy, as some people who saw the quote and photo out of context have surmised.” The photo shoot was done about a week ago, according to Salon.
Time Out noted that the images had been viewed some half a million times, and that they had not received any complaints about it. However, there are many who acknowledged that since Meryl Streep is an American with a fair bit of weight behind her celebrity status, she should have known better than to wear a shirt with such a quote on it.
According to the Telegraph, who talked to author Jad Adams, who wrote Women and the Vote: A World History, “It’s certainly an inappropriate thing to have four white women wearing slavery t-shirts. Like a lot of things Emmeline Pankhurst said, [that quote] was excessive.”
The author noted that while Meryl Streep and her colleagues may have understood the context of the Pankhurst quote, the suffragette movement as a whole featured language that was often deeply rooted in slavery.
“Their condition is nothing like slavery but in order to make the challenge more exiting and ramp up the feelings of disenfranchisement, women liked to compare their situation to that of slaves,” he said.
To date, it seems that Meryl Streep and her colleagues from Suffragette have not said anything about the controversy, but it should be noted that this is not the first time in recent days that Meryl Streep has gotten into hot water. Although she vocally cheered during Patricia Arquette’s Oscar speech about equal pay and has been herself known for playing a range of feminists, Meryl Streep found herself in a bit of hot water a few weeks ago when she declined to identify herself as a feminist in an interview, stating that she was instead a humanist. Regardless, Meryl Streep and her castmates have created both buzz and backlash about Suffragette, a surefire mix to bring people to the theatres.
[Photo courtesy of junkee.com and Photo by John Phillips/Getty Images for BFI]