Berlin jury president says she was discussing her unfamiliarity with Arab movies, rather than the racial makeup of the film festival’s jury, when fateful words were uttered
Meryl Streep has blamed “distorted reporting” for the row over her comments at the Berlin film festival earlier this month, during which the three-time Oscar winner told a press conference: “We’re all Africans really.”
Streep was widely reported to have uttered the fateful line after being asked about representation of minorities on the Berlin jury, of which she was president, in the wake of the ongoing #OscarsSoWhite controversy. But in an opinion piece for the Huffington Post, the actor said she had been responding to an entirely different question.
“Contrary to distorted reporting, no one at that press conference addressed a question to me about the racial makeup of the jury,” wrote Streep. “I did not ‘defend’ the ‘all-white jury’, nor would I, if I had been asked to do so. Inclusion – of races, genders, ethnicities and religions – is important to me, as I stated at the outset of the press conference.”
In fact, Streep continued, she had been asked to comment on the Berlin competition entry Hedi, a Tunisian film set in the aftermath of the ousting of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011, which won the best actor Silver Bear for Majd Mastoura.
Continued Streep: “In a longwinded answer to a different question asked of me by an Egyptian reporter concerning the film from Tunisia, Arab/African culture, and my familiarity with Arab films specifically, I said I had seen and loved Theeb, and Timbuktu, but admitted, ‘I don’t know very much about, honestly, the Middle East … and yet I’ve played a lot of different people from a lot of different cultures. And the thing I notice is that we’re all – I mean there is a core of humanity that travels right through every culture, and after all, we’re all from Africa originally, you know? We’re all Berliners, we’re all Africans, really.’
“I was not minimising difference, but emphasising 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. To be in Berlin is to see proof that walls don’t work.”
The actor’s “all Africans” line was picked up around the world, partly because her last film, period drama Suffragette, was criticised for a racially insensitive photoshoot that included Streep and other cast members dressed in T-shirts stating: “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave.” Despite being a direct quote from Emmeline Pankhurst’s 1913 speech, it provoked anger, with a number of African-American activists taking umbrage at the use of the slavery reference.