Meryl Streep Clarifies Diversity in Film Comments: 'I Was Not Minimizing Difference,' But 'Emphasizing' Empathy
Streep helped hand out awards to a group of diverse filmmakers at the Berlin Film Festival last weekend
Meryl Streep is “setting the record straight.”
In a new essay for The Huffington Post, Streep clarified controversial comments she made at the Berlin International Film Festival earlier this month, explaining that as jury president she “did not ‘defend’ the ‘all-white jury,’ nor would I, if I had been asked to do so.”
“No one at that press conference addressed a question to me about the racial makeup of the jury,” she wrote. “Inclusion – of races, genders, ethnicities and religions – is important to me, as I stated at the outset of the press conference.”
The Associated Press initially reported that Streep was asked whether she understood films originating from the Arab community and North Africa during a press conference with reporters in Germany.
Streep, 66, reportedly replied that she wasn’t very familiar with the region, but has “played a lot of different people from a lot of different cultures.”
“There’s a core of humanity that travels right through every culture, and after all we’re all from Africa originally,” she added. “Berliners, we’re all Africans, really.”
Streep’s new post explained the response was actually a “longwinded answer” to a question concerning Inhebbek Hedi, the Tunisian film that went on to win the Silver Bear for Best First Film.
“I was not minimizing difference, but emphasizing the invisible connection empathy enables, a thing so central to the fact of being human, and what art can do: convey another person’s experience,” Streep wrote. “To be in Berlin is to see proof that walls don’t work.”
The festival’s big winners include Fire At Sea, a Gianfranco Rosi-helmed film that “takes a hard look at the overloaded boats filled with despairing, half-dead immigrants from Africa who land on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa en route to Europe,” the acclaimed actress wrote in her Huffington Post essay.
In addition to Inhebbek Hedi, a Silver Bear was also awarded to A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery, an 8.5-hour film that documents Philippines path to independence. Streep also noted that a Chinese film, Crosscurrent, won the Cinematography Award.
“These stories of people from China, Somalia, Mali, Sudan, and Tunisia – testaments to the impact, importance and diversity of global cinema – have been smothered in the U.S. by the volume of attention given to five words of mine at an opening press conference, which is too bad,” Streep said.
The actress went on to write that she defends “all the choices the jury made,” and said all decisions were taken “very seriously.”
“Their work is newsworthy, and deserves celebration,” she said. “It reflects a diversity of place, race, viewpoint and humanity that should not be invisible in America.”
During the early Feb. panel, Streep also spoke about the inclusion of four women on the seven-member jury.
She said, “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.”