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Meryl Streep puts 'we're all Africans' in context: It wasn't about Berlin jury's racial makeup

Meryl Streep puts 'we're all Africans' in context: It wasn't about Berlin jury's racial makeup
Meryl Streep is setting the record straight about what she said and meant earlier this month at the Berlin Film Festival. (Kay Niertfeld / EPA)

Meryl Streep's words at the start of the Berlin Film Festival were taken out of context, she says, and that's a bummer for those who were distracted enough by it to miss the great things that happened during the event.

The festival's awards went to films from all around the world that told stories about lives lived all over the world, the Oscar winner noted in an essay Wednesday for the Huffington Post. Dare we call it a "diverse" set of winners?

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"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 said.

Those five words fell somewhere in this sentence: "We're all Berliners, we're all Africans, really."

On its face and out of context, the statement might seem simple enough, but it never was. Because not every question being asked in the world these days is about diversity in Hollywood.

Her comment, Streep said, was part of a "long-winded answer to a different question asked of me by an Egyptian reporter concerning the film from Tunisia, Arab/African culture, and my familiarity with Arab films specifically." Meaning, it was not in answer to a question about how an all-white jury from Europe and the U.S. could understand films from the Middle East and Africa, as it was presented in news service reports from the event.

"Contrary to distorted reporting, no one at that press conference addressed a question to me about the racial makeup of the jury. 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 answer to that reporter's question, Streep explained, "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.'

"I was not minimizing difference, but emphasizing 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. To be in Berlin is to see proof that walls don't work."

Follow Christie D'Zurilla on Twitter @theCDZ and Google+. Follow the Ministry of Gossip on Twitter @LATcelebs.

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