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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Meryl Streep is not only one of the finest living American actors — among the very greatest ever, in fact — but also one of our smartest artists. A conscious human being, politically astute and keenly aware of her privileged life, Streep took a few moments to deliver a message at Sunday night’s Golden Globe Award telecast, where she received the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement. (She has won the Golden Globe eight times with 30 nominations to her credit.)

While she didn’t deign to mention Donald Trump by name, her words, spoken in hoarse tones, were clearly directed at him.

Necessarily brief, her remarks are very much worth reading in full (and then sharing as widely as possible). As she took the stage, her friends and colleagues in the auditorium stood to applaud:

Thank you very much. Thank you. Please sit down. Please sit down. Thank you. I love you all. You’ll have to forgive me. I’ve lost my voice in screaming and lamentation this weekend. And I have lost my mind sometime earlier this year. So I have to read.

Thank you, Hollywood foreign press. Just to pick up on what Hugh Laurie said. You and all of us in this room, really, belong to the most vilified segments in American society right now. Think about it. Hollywood, foreigners and the press. But who are we, and what is Hollywood, anyway? It’s just a bunch of people from other places. I was born and raised and educated in the public schools of New Jersey. Viola was born in a sharecropper’s cabin in South Carolina, came up in Central Falls, Rhode Island. Sarah Paulson was born in Florida and raised by a single mom in Brooklyn.

Sarah Jessica Parker was one of seven or eight kids from Ohio. Amy Adams was born in Vicenza, Italy, and Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem — where are their birth certificates? And the beautiful Ruth Negga was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, raised in — no, in Ireland, I do believe, and she’s here, nominated for playing a small-town girl from Virginia. Ryan Gosling, like all the nicest people, is Canadian. And Dev Patel was born in Kenya, raised in London, is here for playing an Indian raised in Tasmania. So Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners. And if we kick ’em all out, you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.

They gave me three seconds to say this, so. An actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us and let you feel what that feels like. And there were many, many, many powerful performances this year that did exactly that, breathtaking, compassionate work. There was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good. There was nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter. Someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it. I still can’t get it out of my head because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life.

And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, ’cause it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing.

Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose. Okay. Go on with that thing.

This brings me to the press. We need the principled press to hold power to account, to call them on the carpet for every outrage. That’s why our founders enshrined the press and its freedoms in our Constitution. So I only ask the famously well-heeled Hollywood foreign press and all of us in our community to join me in supporting the Committee to Protect Journalists, because we’re going to need them going forward, and they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.

One more thing. Once when I was standing around on the set one day whining about something, we were going to work through supper, or the long hours or whatever, Tommy Lee Jones said to me, “Isn’t it such a privilege, Meryl, just to be an actor?” Yeah, it is. And we have to remind each other of the privilege and the responsibility of the act of empathy. We should all be very proud of the work Hollywood honors here tonight. As my friend the dear departed Princess Leia said to me once, “Take your broken heart, make it into art.”

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Copyright 2017 The National Memo