Meryl Streep isn't convinced that the current conversation about sexual harassment in Hollywood will lead to an immediate cultural shift.
"I see it leading straight to a backlash," she said during a panel discussion at The Washington Post offices Thursday. She's not entirely pessimistic, though. Eventually, she says, change will come; it just might take some time.
"I don't think we move in an easy trajectory towards an enlightened future," she said. "We're gonna hit the wall on this one soon."
Streep was in the District for Thursday night's premiere of "The Post" and was joined at the panel by the film's director, Steven Spielberg, and actors Tom Hanks, Bob Odenkirk and Bradley Whitford. The film touches on issues of sexism that feel particularly relevant in the post-Weinstein landscape.
The Golden Globe-nominated film revisits the week in 1971 when Washington Post Publisher Katharine Graham (played by Streep) made the defiant decision to run excerpts from the Pentagon Papers, despite pressure to back down from both the Nixon White House and many of her own advisers. The movie leans into Graham's outsider status, as every boardroom she encounters is filled with men eager to second-guess her.
But the film also shows how she found her voice, her self-assuredness and her power. That was "the week that Katharine Graham became Katharine Graham," said Hanks, who plays Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee.
Decades later, these themes are cropping up again as women come forward with tales of sexual harassment, abuse and bullying abetted by a culture built by and overseen by men. Although allegations are spilling out in every industry, the entertainment world feels like ground zero, given that accusations against producer Harvey Weinstein led to the current wave of accusations.
So what do Spielberg and the rest of his stars think will happen next?
Don't ask Bob Odenkirk.
"I'm a cynic," the actor told moderator Ann Hornaday, The Post's chief film critic. "I'm not going to give you a happy answer. Carry on."
Spielberg called the recent accusations against powerful people a "tsunami of truth" that's led men to look within themselves and ask difficult questions, such as, "Is there a code of conduct in our lexicon of values?"
He also talked about men rooting through their own memories, trying to discern whether they'd ever done anything that might be taken the wrong way.
Whitford, who's known for being outspoken politically, said that he's both optimistic and pessimistic.
"Didn't we think Anita Hill was a watershed moment?" he wondered. "We have this arrogance like 5,000 years of socialization went out the window with the first Village People album. I mean, no, we're stuck and we're climbing out of the muck."
One positive aspect, according to Streep, is that men seem to be more aware of what women have been going through. She compared the status quo to learning a language, explaining that women have always had to speak in a way that men understood, though men didn't have to do the same for women.
"I think what Meryl is trying to say . . .," Whitford added, filling the room with laughter. Streep reacted by cracking up and kicking one leg in the air.
Later, during a one-on-one question-and-answer session between Hanks and Post Executive Editor Martin Baron, Hanks pondered the same themes. He said he's been lucky to have worked with many women, including Penny Marshall ("A League of Their Own"), the late writer-director Nora Ephron ("You've Got Mail") and former Sony Pictures head Amy Pascal, who produced "The Post."
"No man has scared me as much as Nora Ephron," he said.
He lamented that television seems to be doing a much better job of empowering women than movies. But, as Baron pointed out, Hanks seems to be an advocate for female stories, noting his producing credits on "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" and "Mamma Mia!"
"That's not an altruistic choice, frankly," he admitted about those movies, which became massive box office hits. Then he thought better of his humility and jokingly decided to take the credit he deserves: "I want a badge that says 'good guy.' "