Meryl Streep says ‘we’re all Africans, really’? Technically, sure, but ...


Meryl Streep probably would have been better off calling us all jelly donuts.

The “Out of Africa” actress, who heads up this year’s Berlin Film Festival jury, fielded a trio of questions about diversity during a news conference Monday, and her comment that “We’re all Africans, really” set off tone-deaf alarms all over the place.

You know, because #OscarsSoWhite.


UPDATE: Meryl Streep puts ‘we’re all Africans’ in context: Not about Berlin jury’s racial makeup

Streep was, according to the Associated Press, fielding a question from an Egyptian journalist who asked whether she — and by implication the rest of the panelists, all of whom are white — could understand films from the Middle East and Africa.

#OscarsSoWhite: Full coverage of the boycott and Hollywood’s reaction

“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.”

Her words appeared to be intended to echo President John F. Kennedy’s famous 1963 speech in what was then West Berlin, in which he declared as a show of solidarity during the Cold War, “Ich bin ein Berliner” — “I am a Berliner.”

Presumably, she was also referring to scientific research declaring homo sapiens had originated in Africa.

However, as bioanthropologist Kristina Killgrove points over at Forbes, declaring oneself “African” based on a genetic technicality doesn’t necessarily imbue a person with cultural understanding.

“The question of diversity gets to the heart of anthropology in the same way that the question of similarity gets to the heart of anthropology — the beauty of people is that we’re the same and different all at once,” Killgrove writes.

Meanwhile, back in Berlin, Streep continued the diversity-commentary paddle tennis by pointing out that women were in the majority on her seven-member panel.

“I’m very committed to equality and inclusion of people of all genders, races, ethnicities, religions,” she said. “There should be inclusion, and this jury is evidence that at least women are included and in fact dominate this jury. And that’s an unusual situation in bodies of people who make decisions. So I think the Berlinale is ahead of the game.”

The seven-member 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.

Coincidentally, Thursday was also the U.N’s inaugural International Day of Women in Science, aimed at getting more women into the science, technology, engineering and mathematics or STEM fields, where they are significantly underrepresented, their ranks getting thinner as the jobs get more senior.

And that whole JFK-said-he’s-a-jelly-donut story? Urban myth.

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


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