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Oscar-winning actress Meryl Streep is facing criticism for her recent comments regarding race and diversity at the Berlin Film Festival this week.

As president of the all-White festival jury, Streep was asked by an Egyptian reporter at a press conference whether the jury would be able to relate to or process films from the Middle East and Africa. Streep honestly admitted she didn’t know much about policies in either region, but said we’re all humans – and specifically – we’re all from Africa.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

“I don’t know very much, honestly, about the Middle East,” said the first-time jury president, who is 66 and has three Oscars and 16 other Oscar nominations under her belt.

“And yet I’ve played a lot of different people from a lot of different cultures, and the thing that I notice is that we’re all — 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.
I think we — look, we have a critic on our jury, we have a director on our jury, we have actors on our jury. We have a photographer, cinematographer. People will be looking at different things in these films.”

Streep continued by praising the country for including women in their panel: “At least women are included and, in fact, dominate this jury.” 

Critics believe her comments were inspired by the late John F. Kennedy, who expressed solidarity with West Berlin during the Cold War. The president famously stated “Ich bin ein Berliner” — “I am a Berliner.”

Streep’s comment may also be a reference to the “Out of Africa” theory from a 2007 study at the University of Cambridge, which suggests Homo sapiens have origins in Africa. It may have come from an inspired place, but the response still drew criticism from those who claim the diversity issue within awards and festivals stem from incompetence in understanding not only different races, but cultures.

Variety reports:

“We don’t consider Meryl Streep’s comments to be in any way insensitive,” a representative for the Berlin festival said in a statement to Variety.

“As she made it clear throughout the press conference, she is committed to inclusiveness of all ethnicities, religions and genders. She underlined that we are all the same, all equal.”

The jury also includes German actor Lars Eidinger, British film critic Nick James, French photographer Brigitte Lacombe, British actor Clive Owen, Italian actress Alba Rohrwacher, and Polish director Malgorzata Szumowska.



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