One of my friends tweeted that there seems to be a war on intelligent conversation. The social media and even media discussion on Meryl Streep’s Cecil B. DeMille Award acceptance speech at the Golden Globes provides good examples of just that.
What Did Meryl Streep Say?
Thank you, Hollywood Foreign Press, just to pick up on what Hugh Laurie said. You and all of us in this room really belong to the most vilified segments in American society right now. Think about it, Hollywood, foreigners, and the press.
But who are we? And what is Hollywood anyway? It’s just a bunch of people from other places. I was born and raised and educated in the public schools of New Jersey. Viola was born in a sharecropper’s cabin in South Carolina, came up in Central Falls, Rhode Island. Sarah Paulson was born in Florida, raised by a single mom in Brooklyn. Sarah Jessica Parker was one of seven or eight kids from Ohio. Amy Adams was born in Vicenza, Venento, Italy. And Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem. Where are their birth certificates? And the beautiful Ruth Negga was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, raised in ‑‑ no ‑‑ in Ireland, I do believe, and she’s here nominated for playing a small‑town girl from Virginia. Ryan Gosling, like all the nicest people, is Canadian. And Dev Patel was born in Kenya, raised in London, is here for playing an Indian raised in Tasmania. So Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners, and if we kick them all out, you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.
So an actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us and let you feel what that feels like, and there were many, many, many powerful performances this year that did exactly that, breathtaking, compassionate work. But there was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hook in my heart not because it was good. It was ‑‑ there was nothing good about it, but it was effective, and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart, and I saw it, and I still can’t get it out of my head because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life. And this instinct to humiliate when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing.
Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence insights violence. The powerful‑use definition to bully others, we all lose. Okay. Go on with that thing. Okay. This brings me to the press. We need the principal press to hold power to account to call them on the carpet for every outrage.
That’s why our founders enshrined the press and its freedom in our Constitution. So I only ask the famously well‑healed Hollywood Foreign Press and all of us in our community to join me in supporting the Committee to Protect Journalists because we are going to need them going forward and they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.
One more thing. Once when I was standing around on the set one day, whining about something, you know, we were going to work through supper or the long hours or whatever, Tommy Lee Jones said to me, “Isn’t it such a privilege, Meryl, just to be an actor?” Yeah, it is, and we have to remind each other of the privilege and the responsibility of the act of empathy. We should all be very proud of the work Hollywood honors here tonight. As my friend, the dear departed Princess Leia said to me once, “Take your broken heart. Make it into art.” Thank you, friend.
What did Hugh Laurie Say?
This is obviously a terrible mix‑up. Thank you very much. Thank you, first of all, to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for this amazing honor, I suppose made more amazing by the fact that I’ll be able to say I won this at the last‑ever Golden Globes. I don’t mean to be gloomy. It’s just that it has the words “Hollywood,” “foreign,” and “press” in the title. I just assume I won. I also think that, to some Republicans, even the word “association” is slightly sketchy. But thank you to them. Thank you also to the many, many people who gave me this wonderful, extraordinary, once‑in‑a‑lifetime opportunity. So I accept this award on behalf of psychopathic billionaires everywhere.
How Did Donald Trump Respond?
Meryl Streep, one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood, doesn’t know me but attacked last night at the Golden Globes. She is a Hillary flunky who lost big. For the 100th time, I never “mocked” a disabled reporter (would never do that) but simply showed him “groveling” when he totally changed a 16 year old story that he had written in order to make me look bad. Just more very dishonest media!
Trump sank to personal insult (“over-rated”) although he had previously praised Streep’s acting. She did not attack him, but she criticized his actions. There is a difference. Streep is not a “flunky” which means “one performing menial or miscellaneous duties” or a “yes-man.” And neither Hillary Clinton nor Streep “lost big.” Clinton lost the electoral vote but not the popular vote.
Trump did mock a disabled reporter although it is not clear if he mocked the reporter, Serge Kovaleski, because he was disabled. Those are also two different things. Showing a reporter as groveling is mocking him. Trump has mocked other people in a similar fashion. Further, Kovaleski did not change a 16-year-old story. The problem is Trump wanted Kovaleski to support Trump’s claims of “thousands and thousands” of Muslims in America (Jersey City) celebrating 9/11. The Washington Post article written by Kovaleski (with another reporter) only mentions a “number” of people who were “allegedly” celebrating. That means it was only a rumor.
ABC New reported that there was nothing to support Trump’s claims:
Former New Jersey attorney general John Farmer told ABC News, “The reports of widespread celebrating were not true. Simply not true.” Donald DiFrancesco, the acting governor of New Jersey on Sept. 11, also told ABC News, “I guess, if two or three people did something somewhere, maybe it’s possible. But no, not thousands, no. I would have had to send people over there to handle security if that were happening.”
How Did Kellyanne Conway Respond?
As noted on Salon, Conway responded with both a tweet and commentary on CNN. First she tweeted, “I didn’t hear #MerylStreep use her platform to give a shoutout to the mentally challenged boy who was tortured live on FB.”
Conway is referring to the 18-year-old mentally challenged boy who was tortured by four 18-year-old African American teens live on Facebook.
On CNN, she asked, “Let’s talk about Meryl Streep,” and while she conceded, “I think it’s great that she wants to give a platform” she also wondered, “why didn’t she use that platform to talk about the mentally challenged boy last week who was tortured on a live streaming Facebook by four young African-American adults in Chicago, screaming racial” slurs.
Chris Cuomo responded logically, “Because one of them was done by a bunch of miscreants. The other one was done by the president-elect of the United States.”
Conway objected, asking, “You’re really going to equate the two?” Yet isn’t that what she’s asking people to do: Equate the behavior of a presidential candidate with four teenagers?
Cuomo replied, “No, I don’t equate them at all. One of them was a crime.”
Conway continued, “That’s a crime and I hope the book is thrown at them. But again, if she’s got this great platform and she has a worldwide audience at that moment, why not bring attention to that recent event?”
The topic of Streep’s speech was the behavior of a presidential candidate and thus, a president, toward members of the press. She was speaking at a press event: The Golden Globes is put on by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. She addressed the president-elect’s attitude toward foreigners, the press, and influential people in the movie business.
The topic was not: How to treat disabled people. The topic was not: How teenagers are being raised to treat disabled people. The topic was not: How people in general treat disabled people.
Just because she has focused her short speech on a specific topic, as is usually recommended, we do not actually know if Streep is or is not concerned about these five 18-year-olds and the targeting of disabled people. We do not know if she is concerned about racial issues or black-on-white assaults or racism.
Conway’s ploy is, as Cuomo readily understood, a distraction, veering off topic and not directly addressing Streep’s concerns and instead posing one that unfairly attacks Streep not for what she has said, but for what Streep did not say.
Was It Inappropriate?
Conway didn’t feel that what Streep said was inappropriate. She would have preferred that Streep talk about “the mentally challenged boy last week who was tortured.” Conway doesn’t take issue with Streep talking about issues of public concern at the Golden Globes. She took issue with what Streep didn’t talk about.
The ultimate judge of what is appropriate at an event is the organization who is giving the honor and has chosen the recipient. Some people, like the president-elect, might feel Streep is “over-rated” but he is not a member of the HFPA. The feeling at the Golden Globes was one of approval. That is supported by a letter sent to Streep which calls her “a class act.”
Congratulations once again on being the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s Cecil B. DeMille Award recipient. We stand proudly behind our choice, and we applaud your 40 years of captivating work. You’re a class act, in and out of character.
As an organization of journalists, the HFPA stands by your defense of free expression and we reject any calls for censorship.
We thank you for your unwavering support for the arts.
With gratitude and respect,
Hollywood Foreign Press Association
Is Streep a Hypocrite?
Another tactic taken to discredit Streep is to call her a hypocrite because she stood up an applauded when Roman Polanski received an Academy Award for Best Director in 2003 for “The Pianist.” The movie was nominated for seven Oscars, but won three.
Streep stood up and applauded. She was not applauding Polanski for his public behavior. She was applauding Polanski as a professional, for his artistic skill as a director for a particular film. Polanski is not running for a public office, such as president, even of the Academy of Motion Arts and Science.
Although this criticism points out that Polanski was accused and found guilty of “unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor,” and how his actions affected the victim. It does not indicate that the victim, Samantha Geimer, has settled with Polanski for sexual assault, false imprisonment and emotional distress and at the time (2002) “wrote an op-ed piece for The Times arguing that his movie should be judged on its merits.”
In her article, Geimer wrote: “But I believe that Mr. Polanski and his film should be honored according to the quality of the work. What he does for a living and how good he is at it have nothing to do with me or what he did to me. I don’t think it would be fair to take past events into consideration. I think that the academy members should vote for the movies they feel deserve it. Not for people they feel are popular.”
In 2003, the LA Times considered this with an article by Patrick Goldstein. In 2009, Geimer asked the court to dismiss the charges.
When Streep stood up and applauded Polanski for his win, it was for a win that wasn’t being condemned by the victim. The videos I’ve seen about Streep that include excerpts from the victim’s conversations, mostly, it seems from her book promotional tours, however, those videos forget to include this salient fact.
Streep could have condemned Trump for his legal woes like the recently settled Trump University case or for his behavior toward beauty pageant contestants and that might have provided some links to Polanski on the grounds of championing someone who had to settle out-of-court on a legal case resulting from questionable ethics or on the basis of how one treats women in a professional capacity. She did not. Streep was criticizing the conduct of a presidential candidate in terms of how it personally made her feel. Her speech at the Golden Globes did not reveal how she felt about the legal case settlement or allegations about Trump and his dealings with beauty pageant contestants.
Imitation the Sincerest Form of Flattery?
Streep was also criticized for defending disabled reporter because Streep had played a disabled person. She was not playing a person with arthrogryposis, the condition that reporter Serge Kovaleski has. She was playing Maggie Thatcher in the 2011 British drama “The Iron Lady.” Streep won an Oscar and her third Golden Globe. The script was written by Abi Morgan and Phyllida Lloyd directed. Thatcher’s disability was dementia.
There has been criticism about abled-bodied actors playing disabled actors, however, this has not been the case with dementia or Alzheimer’s for reasons that should be self-evident. The film wasn’t as well received as Meryl Streep’s performance.
Streep was also criticized for dressing up as Donald Trump. This was during a fundraising performance for a theater. The satirizing of a political figure or a celebrity is quite common. Streep has also been parodied (“Meryl Streep on Ice” and “Meryl Streep on the Golden Globes“).
Barack Obama was also satirized. “Saturday Night Live” has a long tradition of satirizing political candidates and presidents and that includes Bill Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton, George Bush, George W. Bush, etc. Remember Amy Poehler and Tina Fey as Hillary and Sarah? Alec Baldwin has also been criticized for his portrayal of Trump and he had a confusing opinion on Trump and Streep.
Streep didn’t seem to be upset by the parodies of her and her talent. Obama didn’t seem to complain about any disrespect in the satire directed at him. Why should this be different for Trump when he’s being portrayed by either Baldwin or Streep?
Is Meryl Streep Brave?
Certainly some people have called Meryl Streep brave for her speech. She was politely criticizing the actions of the president-elect. Judd Apatow called Streep brave and clear in an 8 January 2017 tweet. George Takei just tweeted that Trump was “a small, small man.”
Steve Cohen, a Democratic representative who serves Tennessee’s 9th District Memphis/Shelby County, in a tweet called Streep “quite a brave and right-on lady!”
Streep did not call herself brave.
Cohen noted in another tweet that “I also can’t get the picture of him mocking the ‘different’ reporter. I hadn’t seen anyone do such since 5th grade.”
J.R. Salzman tweeted that “I too hope to one day be as courageous and selfless as Meryl Streep.” That tweet got over 8,000 likes, but it isn’t clear what Salzman means. The Christian, Iraq War vet is an amputee and wounded warrior. For a freelance writer, the tweet was ambiguous and had nothing to do with what Streep said.
However, J.R. Salzman’s self-promotional tweet seems to equate serving in the military and being injured as a result as the definition of brave and selfless. If that is the case, such one-upmanship is ridiculously outdated. While one can sympathize that Salzman was injured and thank him for his service, if this is the only measure of courage, then we will always need wars or war-like actions for men and, to a lesser extent, women, to prove their bravery. If courage is defined by physical sacrifice in battle, then the bravest men were soldiers like the kamikaze pilots or those who made similar suicidal actions (e.g. the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade) for their country. One could say that J.R. Salzman isn’t as brave as the men who died during the war or the men who were captured and tortured (e.g. Senator John McCain). In times of peace should we resurrect old tribal rituals for proving manhood? I hope not.
Oddly Salzman’s Twitter bio links to his blog which was last updated on 23 February 2016 when he said he was leaving Twitter “forever.”
Salzman does not address the topic that Streep raised but his tweet has been interpreted as a personal attack on Streep (“Wounded Warrior J.R. Salzman Drops Mic Right on ‘Brave’ Meryl Streep” or “Iraq War Veteran Shuts Down Meryl Streep with Exposing How ‘Courageous’ She Really Is” or “BOOM! Disabled Iraq War Veteran Responds to Meryl Streep“) as opposed to those who call her brave.
Meryl Streep asked for the following: respectful public discourse, nonviolence, a press that safeguards the truth and for donations to an organization that supports journalists (Committee to Protect Journalists), taking responsibility in the art one creates and to go forth and make art. She did take an unnecessary swipe at American football and mixed martial arts. She did not personally attack Trump. She didn’t even name him. I don’t always agree with Streep (e.g. her comments on Walt Disney at the National Board of Review dinner), her speech wasn’t empty, but seemed meant to inspire and it gave us something positive to do and think about.