Let me first say that I love Meryl Streep as much as the next person. After all, no one else flings a skillet full of potato in the exact style of Julia Child like she does. Or channels the glacial air of Anna Wintour with such compelling ease and confidence.
But at the risk of social damnation and bodily harm, I have to say that some parts of her highly lauded Golden Globes speech rankled me.
Of course, I want to support anyone who challenges the president elect on his xenophobia, his vilification of the press, and his general bully-ness. But in trying to make her point, Meryl veered into self-deception when she extolled Hollywood as the model of diversity, a “place for outsiders and foreigners,” a golden city on a hill with a collage of different skin tones and body types.
Wait, we’re still talking about Hollywood, right?
Meryl forged ahead, citing examples of “outsiders” in the room full of wealthy and beautiful Hollywood stars. I tried to suspend my doubt as she mentioned her own New Jersey upbringing.
But Sarah Jessica Parker, an outsider, because she was born in . . . Ohio?
Ryan Gosling, the attractive white male millionaire, a foreigner because he’s . . . Canadian?
Of course, a few of Meryl’s examples supported her point better than others. Viola Davis, born in a sharecropper’s cabin. Ruth Negga, born in Ethiopia and raised in Ireland.
Still, the bulk of the celebrities she mentioned were young, profoundly attractive, and privileged. While Meryl grasped at flecks of color and diversity in the glamorous crowd, I wondered, does anyone here remember the 2016 Oscars?
The year the Academy failed to nominate a single actor of color? The year Chris Rock had to serve not only as entertainer and host, but as America’s moral conscience?
The day after the Golden Globes, while a flurry of memes about Meryl’s greatness played on my social media accounts, I thought about Gabourey Sidibe, the “Precious” actor nominated for an Academy Award in 2010. I remembered Hollywood fawning over the Harlem-raised actor after her debut as the troubled, pregnant teen living with abuse and poverty. Despite her incredible talent, I worried about Sidibe and her longevity in a world where most successful women were thin and white.
I haven’t seen her at an award ceremony since.
Of course, Hollywood’s made great strides in recent years, evidenced by the success of “Moonlight” and Donald Glover’s “Atlanta,” but we have a long way to go.
“Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners,” Streep concluded. “If you kick ’em all out, you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.”
But honestly, if we kicked out the true outsiders and foreigners, wouldn’t we have a place that looks largely the same?
I’m probably still going to share that meme about Meryl Streep’s immaculate poise and talent. And again, I believe with every fiber of my being that we should protect the press, freedom of speech, and the rights of the disabled.
But we’ve just elected someone who gives racists and bigots extraordinary license for their hatred, and we have us enormous battles to fight. Before we can fight those battles, we have to be honest about our shortcomings. And Hollywood is a good place to start.