Meryl Streep and Emma Thompson's Feminist Love Fest

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by Inkoo Kang
January 8, 2014 2:00 PM
5 Comments
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Meryl Streep and Emma Thompson

Holy hell. 

Last night at the National Board of Review awards ceremony, Meryl Streep outed herself as Emma Thompson's biggest fan by celebrating her for being "a rabid, man eating feminist, like I am." Calling the Saving Mr. Banks Best Actress awardee "a beautiful artist" and "practically a saint," Streep recited an original poem -- "An ode to Emma. Or, what Emma is owed" -- during her ten-minute speech. Streep also took the opportunity to call out Walt Disney as a "gender bigot" with "racist proclivities, declaring, "It must have killed him to encounter, in a woman [P.L. Travers], an equally disdainful and superior creature, a person dismissive of his own, considerable gifts and prodigious output and imagination." 

Not to be outdone by her friend, Thompson made cracks about menopause and encouraged women to stop wearing high heels: "They're so painful. And pointless." She then thanked the film world for creating so many great roles for actresses this year, singling out Saving Mr. Banks screenwriter Kelly Marcel for writing such a "relentlessly unpleasant [character]. Actually, it was an artistic chance to let out my real and true inner self." 

Sadly, there doesn't appear to be any video of the speeches, but Vanity Fair has a transcript. Here are some highlights from their speeches: 

MS: Some of his associates reported that Walt Disney didn't really like women. Ward Kimball, who was one of his chief animators, one of the original "Nine Old Men," creator the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter and Jiminy Cricket, said of Disney: "He didn't trust women or cats."

MS: Ezra Pound said, "I have not met anyone worth a damn who was not irascible." Well, I have: Emma Thompson. Not only is she not irascible, she's practically a saint. There's something so consoling about that old trope, but Emma makes you want to kill yourself, because she's a beautiful artist, she's a writer, she's a thinker, she's a living, acting conscience. Emma considers, carefully, what the fuck she is putting into the culture. Emma thinks: Is this helpful?

MS: Disney, who brought joy, arguably, to billions of people, was perhaps, or had some... racist proclivities. He formed and supported an anti-Semitic industry lobby. And he was certainly, on the evidence of his company's policies, a gender bigot. Here's a letter from 1938 stating his company's policy to a young woman named Mary Ford, of Arkansas, who had made application to Disney for the training program in cartooning. And I'm going to read it here in Emma's tribute because I know it will tickle our honoree, because she's also a rabid, man eating feminist, like I am.

Dear Miss Ford, Your letter of recent date has been received in the inking and painting department for reply. Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen, as that task is performed entirely by young men. For this reason, girls are not considered for the training school. The only work open to women consists of tracing the characters on clear celluloid sheets with India ink, and then filling in the tracing on the reverse side with paint, according to the directions.

MS: When I saw the film, I could just imagine Walt Disney's chagrin at having to cultivate P.L. Travers' favor for 20 years that it took to secure the rights to her work. It must have killed him to encounter, in a woman, an equally disdainful and superior creature, a person dismissive of his own, considerable gifts and prodigious output and imagination.

MS: Nobody can swashbuckle a quip-witted riposte like Emma Thompson. She's a writer, a real writer, and she has a relish for the well-chosen word. But some of the most sublime moments in Saving Mr. Banks are completely wordless. They live in the transitions where P.L. traverses from her public face to her private spaces. I'm talking about her relentlessness when she has her verbal dukes up, and then it moves to the relaxation of her brow when she retreats into the past. It's her stillness, her attentiveness to her younger self; her perfect aliveness, her girlish alertness. These are qualities that Emma has as a person. 

ET: My god, I'm nauseous with gratitude! 

ET: It's such a cold night, you know, it's the only time I've been actively grateful for the menopause. There have been moments when I've been entirely comfortable. And then they pass.

ET: Normally on occasions like this I like to complain, loudly and at length, about the dearth of roles for women, but actually this year they seem to have behaved like buses in London, where you wait for hours for the right one, and then suddenly seventeen come along at once. And so it has been. You know, Meryl and Julia and Octavia and Lea and the Kates, both Blanchett and Winslet, it's been an extraordinary year for women's roles. I can't think what gave me the edge; it must have been the perm. Which was a great sacrifice; it meant no sex, of course, for months on end. And then only with animal noises accompanying it.

ET: I'd like to thank Kelly Marcel for writing someone so relentlessly unpleasant. Actually, it was an artistic chance to let out my real and true inner self. It was such bliss torturing all those young men, and I include Hanks, obviously, in that category. He's always looked like he needed a good smack.

ET: And Alison Owen, who produced a film about a 60-year-old woman which wasn't about her being a wife or a mother. When does that happen? Never. Extraordinary.

ET: I've taken my heels off as a feminist statement really, because why do we wear them? They're so painful. And pointless, really. You know, I really would like to urge everyone to stop it. Just stop it. Don't wear them anymore. You just can't walk in them, and I'm so comfortable now.

And, of course, here's Streep's poem: 

MS: So now, an ode to Emma. Or, what Emma is owed.

We think the Brits are brittle

They think that we are mush

They are more sentimental, though we do tend to gush

Volcanoes of emotion, concealed beneath that lip

Where we are prone to guzzle, they tip the cup and sip

But when eruption rumbles from nowhere, near the brain, it's seismic.

Granite crumbles

The heart more flows like rain

Like lava

All that feeling melts down

Like Oscar gold

And Emma leaves us reeling

A knockout, truth be told

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5 Comments

  • Erin | January 10, 2014 12:11 PMReply

    Thanks for this post! I have been reading various stories online... but all failed to properly convey the tone and context (as you do) for what took place at this awards ceremony.

    Apparently, it remains a perplexing mental feat, for some of those writers to get their heads around the notion, that one esteemed woman can deeply honor another esteemed woman.

  • Kathy | January 9, 2014 12:01 AMReply

    This is great. I would LOVE to see Streep and Thompson play real, out-of-the-closet feminist activists. We need good movies about Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul, Gloria Steinem, Gerda Lerner, Carrie Chapman Catt, Susan B. Anthony, Victoria Woodhull, Mary Wollstonecraft, Vera Brittain, Emmeline Pankhurst . . . the list goes on and on.

  • Helise | January 20, 2014 9:46 AM

    Kathy: I have already written the script for Meryl Streep to portray Susan B. Anthony and Kathy Bates wanted to portray Elizabeth Cady Stanton. It's entitled THE REVOLUTIONISTS.

  • Holly | January 8, 2014 7:52 PMReply

    So happy to have both these women represent.

  • Nichola | January 8, 2014 7:13 PMReply

    Lovely

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