Meryl Streep’s “We’re all Africans, really” remark probably didn’t mean what you thought it did

Meryl Streep in Berlin.
Meryl Streep in Berlin.
Image: REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch
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Meryl Streep, a 19-time Oscar nominee, was pilloried after reportedly saying “we’re all Africans, really,” in response to a question about why a jury at a Berlin film festival, which she heads, is all white.

The claim was picked up by news outlets around the world, as a sign that even Hollywood’s top talent is completely tone deaf when it comes to questions about race in the industry or its extraordinary lack of diversity. Long-time Streep fans from various backgrounds despaired and a mocking hashtag was born.

It turns out, though, that the report linking that quote to the jury’s all-whiteness, was incorrect.

Mashable has issued a correction saying that Streep’s answer was not to a question about Berlin International Film Festival’s jury, but to a question from an Egyptian reporter asking about North Africa and the Middle East, and particularly a film that was in the festival: “How do you see this part of the world? And is it easy for you to understand that culture? And are you following any of the Arab movies?”

Streep admitted that she didn’t know a lot about the Middle East, despite her playing a range of characters from many different backgrounds. She explained that she believes there is a “core of humanity that travels right through every culture,” and that “we’re all Berliners, we’re all Africans” (video). Here’s her full quote:

Yes, in fact I’ve just seen a film called Theeb, which I loved. I saw Timbuktu recently … I don’t know very much about, honestly, about the Middle East, and yet I’ve played a lot of different people from a lot of different cultures. 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. We’re all Berliners, we’re all Africans, really.

The response appears to be Streep’s ham-fisted way of explaining that, by playing a range of characters, she has learned that different cultures tend to have more in common than they do separating them.

Even though Streep was not shrugging off the all-white jury with a claim to be African, the comments remain cringe-worthy at best, even when paired next to the correct question. Streep also didn’t help herself by turning her answer into a partial defense of the jury’s lack of diversity anyway, by following up with: ”Look, we have a critic on our jury, we have a director on our jury…people will be looking at different things. But we’re human beings, and film is an emotional experience.”

The AP report that Mashable first took its information from has not been corrected, and still says Streep dismissed “questions about the all-white panel by telling reporters that ‘we’re all Africans, really.'”