Meryl Streep Tells Us How She Really Feels About Walt Disney

A couple of weeks ago the National Board of Review Awards did much more than just give Hollywood its customary warm-up to the Golden Globes. The event also set the acting world abuzz with unexpected controversy when accomplished actor Meryl Streep (possibly the most loved and decorated female actor of our time, no?) made some bold statements about Walt Disney in the speech she gave to present fellow outstanding female actor Emma Thompson with the best actress award for her role as Mary Poppins author PL Travers in the feature film Saving Mr. Banks. The movie tells the story of how Walt Disney himself pursued and persuaded Travers to let him bring Mary Poppins to the big screen. While Streep’s lengthy presentation speech included lavish praise for Thompson, including a poem Streep composed for her colleague, it also included an element that no one was expecting – namely, a harsh criticism of Walt Disney, the person.

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Streep’s condemnations of Mr. Disney were two-fold, on the issues of racism and sexism. She said he “had some racist proclivities” – citing his membership in an anti-Semitic lobbying group in Hollywood and also that he was a “gender bigot” when it came to women. She read aloud a letter he had written to a female job applicant to Disney’s animation department in 1938 – telling her that women weren’t even considered for this kind of job – to drive this point home, saying it would sure “tickle” Ms. Thompson since she was “a rabid man-eating feminist like me!”

Whether or not you agree with Streep’s assessment of Disney as a man, (many are already offering up defenses) you do have to admire her boldness for making her opinions known in such a public manner, especially since she is under contract with Disney for the recently-shot film Into the Woods. Not to mention that Saving Mr. Banks, starring Tom Hanks as Disney opposite Thompson’s Travers, is truly an effort by the Disney company to show the very best qualities of Disney the man, and thus far has been very well-received by audiences and critics alike.

Whatever her reasoning, Streep did take this highly public opportunity to bring sexism in Hollywood to the forefront of conversation during awards season. And highlighting the gender inequality in the film industry is always appreciated by those of us equally as passionate about this issue.

What did you think of Streep’s speech?

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