The 'August: Osage County' star stole the night by delivering a sharp criticism of Disney while honoring 'Saving Mr. Banks' actress Emma Thompson as Best Actress winner.
Meryl Streep gave a different perspective on the portrayal of Walt Disney as a sugarcoated hero in "Saving Mr. Banks" during the National Board of Review Awards Tuesday night, January 7. She ripped the animator when taking the stage to honor Emma Thompson as the winner of Best Actress for her role as Mary Poppins' creator P.L. Travers.
Streep branded Disney anti-Semitic and sexist. She said in front of the A-list crowd, "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."
The actress who will soon be seen starring in the Mouse House's "Into the Woods" quoted Ward Kimball, the creator the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter and Jiminy Cricket, that Disney, who is a founding member of Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, a known anti-semitic group, "didn't trust women or cats."
The "August: Osage County" star then read a rejection letter from the company to an aspiring female animator in 1938. "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," the letter read as quoted by Vanity Fair.
"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."
Streep continued, "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."
"But when we sit in our relative positions of importance and mutual suspicion, and we pass judgment on each other's work, we're bound to make small mistakes and misconstrue each other's motives. Which brings me to award season. Which is really ridiculous. We have made so many beautiful movies this year, and to single out one seems unfair. And yet it's a great celebration, and I'm so proud to be here, in this group of artists."
"Nobody can swashbuckle a quit-witted riposte like Emma Thompson. She's a writer, a real writer, and she has a relish for the well-chosen word," Streep went on to praise the Best Actress winner. She also called her fellow actress "practically a saint," "a beautiful artist," "a thinker," and "a living, acting conscience."
Streep told the audience that she was not worried about her speech which was a mix of her tribute to Thompson and a sharp criticism to Disney because she's sure it would "tickle" Thompson. "She's also a rabid, man eating feminist, like I am," she jokingly said, before concluding by reading "an ode to Emma. Or, what Emma is owed."
When it was her turn to take the stage, Thompson gushed, "Bloody hell, Meryl. What greater love hath no woman, really, that she should don a frock and heels for her friend, write a poem. My god, I'm nauseous with gratitude!" She went on to launch a series of punch lines, including urging women to stop wearing high heels. "It's such a cold night, you know, it's the only time I've been actively grateful for the menopause," she quipped.
Other winners included director Martin Scorsese and actor Leonardo DiCaprio who shared Spotlight Award for their longtime collaboration. The duo completed each other's sentences in a funny speech while collecting their prize.