If only Hollywood kept up with Streep

opinion January 11, 2017 01:00

By The Nation

The actress’ anti-Trump tirade this weekend should properly have admitted her own industry’s shortcomings

Without mentioning Donald Trump’s name, the eminent American actress Meryl Streep savaged the incoming president during Sunday’s Golden Globes awards telecast, seen by millions. She railed at him for mocking the motions of a physically disabled New York Times reporter at one of his a campaign rallies last year. “This instinct to humiliate, when it’s modelled 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,” Streep said after accepting a lifetime achievement award. 

Following the awards ceremony Trump took time from his surely hectic preparations for the Oval Office to make an early-morning post on Twitter. He insisted (quite contrary to videotape evidence) that he never mocked the reporter, before dismissing three-time Oscar winner Streep as an “overrated” actress and a lackey of Hillary Clinton.

It might seem pointless, nine days before Trump’s inauguration, to repeat that it reflects badly on American society that nearly 46 per cent of the electorate was willing to overlook his long list of faults. More than 62 million Americans were prepared, for a variety of reasons, to tolerate his boorish behaviour before and during the campaign. Many of those voters are presumably looking forward to more such behaviour, particularly if the targets are Hollywood bigwigs regarded as out of touch with average citizens.

However, for the nearly 65 million Americans who voted for Clinton, only to see her come second due to the vagaries of the electoral college, Streep’s message will have resonated with its attack on a prominent figure who cruelly demeans ethnic minorities, women and immigrants. 

This is of course not the first time that Trump’s conservative Republican Party has clashed with Hollywood, an artistic community commonly acknowledged as being liberal in political outlook. But for Trump to respond to Streep’s comments, turning a minor-headline story into a major-coverage catfight, is not just unprecedented but also revealing about the man about to become president.

Streep was openly supportive of Clinton during the campaign, yet her speech was not a matter of crying over spilled milk. Knowing in advance that the Golden Globes would give her a platform from which to speak out against abuse from on high, she properly took advantage of the situation. 

The US motion picture industry in general, however, cannot claim to be as progressive as many of its stars. Most notably, it shows a continuing tendency to relegate black actors and other talents to second-class status. People of colour remain under-represented on the screen and undervalued behind the camera.

It must be granted that the industry has come a long way since “Gone with the Wind” star Hattie McDaniel, on becoming in 1939 the first black actor to win an Academy Award, had to undergo the humiliation of receiving it in a segregated Los Angeles hotel. She was even criticised by the black 

community, disturbed by her “Mammy” maidservant role in the movie. Such 

are the shifting social political 

contexts that separate our eras. 

Television fame aside, Trump is not an actor, and this worries Streep. Seeing him “imitate” that disabled reporter, she said, “It kind of broke my heart, and I still can’t get it out of my head, because it wasn’t in a movie – it was real life. Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”

Streep deserves praise for utilising a pop-culture forum to speak out against hurtful behaviour. But, if her industry would like to be equally admired and taken just as seriously, it too must advance the cause of minorities and, yes, the disabled as well.