Meryl Streep has starred in dozens of films. She’s been nominated for 19 Academy Awards and won three. She’s played strong-willed women such as Karen Silkwood and Margaret Thatcher. And she’s been a longtime advocate for women in Hollywood.
But now, Streep is sliding into a netherworld where like-minded liberals tear each other to pieces.
The first sign of the slide came last month, when Streep declined to identify herself as a feminist.
“I am a humanist, I am for nice easy balance,” Streep told Cath Clarke of Time Out London while promoting her latest film “Suffragette,” about women seeking the vote by any means necessary in England at the turn of the 20th century.
This was a Sophie’s choice some couldn’t live with.
“Girl I am surprised at you,” Teo Bugbee wrote at the Daily Beast. “You, Mary Louise Streep — you are not a feminist? You, the star of Silkwood and A Cry in the Dark? You, who leaps out of your seat every time another lady beats you for an Oscar? You, who are campaigning Congress for the creation of an equal rights amendment? You, who railed against Walt Disney last awards season for being a ‘gender bigot?’ ”
Now, Streep has offended again.
In photographs shot for Time Out London, she and her “Suffragette” co-stars wore shirts with the slogan “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave” — part of a quote from British suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, whom Streep portrays in the film.
Clockwise from top left: Streep, Carey Mulligan, Anne-Marie Duff, Romola Garai.
The full Pankhurst quote: “I 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.”
While the quote’s use of the word “slave” might be deemed metaphorical — made without reference to race, if such a race-neutral use of the word “slave” is possible — many objected.
“It’s certainly an inappropriate thing to have four white women wearing slavery T-shirts,” Jad Adams, historian and author of “Women and the Vote: A World History,” told the Telegraph. “People talked about the emancipation of women. Their condition is nothing like slavery but in order to make the challenge more exciting and ramp up the feelings of disenfranchisement, women liked to compare their situation to that of slaves,” he added.
Was this a publicist fail — or something more insidious?
“The presence of the words ‘rebel’ and ‘slave’ alone should have had Meryl Streep picking up a history book first,” Jamil Smith, a senior editor of the New Republic, wrote. He added: “More black folks around Meryl Streep and company may have helped, sure, but that can’t be the excuse. There’s a curiosity lacking there.”
“How did no one — not anyone at the magazine, or on the film’s or actresses’ publicity teams — see those two words and consider the context?” Sarah Seltzer at Flavorwire wrote. “No one said, ‘Hey, guys, maybe let’s pick another line from the speech!’ The logical conclusion is that nearly everyone involved in the effort was so white that no one even noticed. If so, that reveals a bigger problem with the film effort.”
But of course, Meryl Streep wasn’t advocating slavery. She funded a program for female screenwriters older than 40. She cheered when Patricia Arquette gave a speech about equal pay for women at the Oscars earlier this year (though, for what it’s worth, Arquette’s remarks at the ceremony were later deemed insulting to gays and minorities). She’s forward-thinking. Right?
“Clearly the intention was to honor Pankhurst’s words and not to make an allusion to the Confederate States of America and slavery; but people are going to see what they’re going to see, and people saw that connection pretty quickly,” Ira Madison III wrote at Vulture. “It’s unfortunate that no one involved with the film or Streep’s team did.”
And some said the bad publicity was actually good publicity.
” ‘Suffragette’ depends on being able to catch the wind,” Catherine Shoard wrote at the Guardian. “Movies that aren’t masterpieces still need to become must-sees somehow.”
Time Out London was compelled to respond. “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave” was being taken out of context, it said.
“This is a quote from a 1913 speech given by Emmeline Pankhurst, one of the historic British suffragettes whose fight for equality is portrayed in the movie,” the magazine said in a statement. “The original quote was intended to rouse women to stand up against oppression — 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.”
Early Wednesday, “Suffragette’s” creators have not responded to The Post’s request for comment — and Streep, Mulligan et. al. appeared to have remained silent.
Correction: An earlier version of this article said Meryl Streep “funded a program for female screenwriters under 40.” She funded a program for female screenwriters older than 40.