'Contrary to distorted reporting, no one at that press conference addressed a question to me about the racial makeup of the jury'

By Jonathon Dornbush
Updated February 25, 2016 at 07:26 PM EST
Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Meryl Streep did indeed say “We’re all Africans” at the recently concluded Berlin Film Festival, comments that lit up the Internet and were thrown into the chorus of voices sounding off about the Oscars diversity debate. But in a new essay published by the Huffington Post, the Oscar-winner gives context to her statements and admonishes the media outlets that mistakenly jumped to “distorted” conclusions.

“The lede was buried in the story of the Berlin festival, the largest in the world,” said Streep. “These stories of people from China, Somalia, Mali, Sudan, and Tunisia — testaments to the impact, importance and diversity of global cinema — have been smothered in the U.S. by the volume of attention given to five words of mine at an opening press conference, which is too bad.”

Streep clarified that her remark came as part of “a longwinded answer to a different question asked of me by an Egyptian reporter,” and had nothing to do with a question about the racial makeup of the festival’s [all-white] jury, of which she was president, nor of the criticisms the Oscars faced when it revealed a slate of all-white acting nominees for the second year in a row. While many stars have addressed the diversity issues plaguing Hollywood and the Oscars, Streep sees the focus on her comments as not only misconstruing her actual point but of sidelining the important work the Berlin Film Festival did to encourage diverse stories from around the world.

“Contrary to distorted reporting, no one at that press conference addressed a question to me about the racial makeup of the jury,” Streep continued. “I did not ‘defend’ the ‘all-white jury,’ nor would I, if I had been asked to do so. Inclusion — of races, genders, ethnicities and religions — is important to me, as I stated at the outset of the press conference.”

In fact, she was answering a question about the Tunisian film Hedi, Arab and African culture, and her familiarity with films from those regions. “I said I had seen and loved Theeb, and Timbuktu, but admitted, ‘I don’t know very much about, honestly, the Middle East … and yet I’ve played a lot of different people from a lot of different cultures. And the thing I notice is that we’re all — I mean there is a core of humanity that travels right through every culture, and after all, we’re all from Africa originally, you know? We’re all Berliners, we’re all Africans, really.'”

Streep says she intended in no way to “minimize difference” between cultures but instead to emphasize “the invisible connection empathy enables, a thing so central to the fact of being human, and what art can do: convey another person’s experience.” She believes the focus on her out-of-context quote took away focus on the festival and its jury’s similar ambitions to highlight “a diversity of place, race, viewpoint and humanity that should not be invisible in America.”

Read Streep’s full essay on the Huffington Post.