Despite appearing in “Suffragette” for all of four minutes, Meryl Streep is quickly becoming the face of the feminist drama — not just through her star power and name recognition, but her activism for women’s rights outside the film, too.
Streep plays Emmeline Pankhurst, the iconic British suffragist whose achievements and speeches inspire the film’s protagonist (Carey Mulligan), a working-class laundress, and her fellow agitators. In the film, Streep’s address to suffragettes on the ground is interrupted by violent riot police. “To stand on the balcony and look at these uplifted, hopeful young faces, it made me cry,” Streep told the LA Times. “I couldn’t get over it. You take your hope from the next generation.”
At Telluride, where the actress is promoting “Suffragette,” Streep has been channeling Pankhurst and speaking her mind. She pleaded for the “amazing” Pope Francis to “address issues of inequality,” arguing, “The conversation changes when women are at the table.” She also spoke of her recent effort to restart the debate about passing the ERA. “I sent [each member of Congress] a book called ‘Equal Means Equal’ by Jessica Neuwirth. It’s about the revival of the attempt to get an ERA that would codify in law that you can’t discriminate against women,” she said. “I got five answers.” When a former ERA campaigner in the audience asked her why an amendment guaranteeing equality for women was important today, Streep answered, “It needs to be set down in law. … For the rest of the world, it’s important that this is set down in law.”
But perhaps she was most convincing when discussing the need for gender equality in the film world.
“We need the door to be opened in our industry,” she said in the LA Times interview. “In the director’s branch of the academy, there is something wrong that there are so few women. In the directors guild, there is something profoundly wrong. It’s not like the film schools aren’t graduating thousands of young women. They’re going to festivals, they’re winning prizes, their films are seen and they disappear. So then do our stories. My story is disappearing, and I can’t allow it, on behalf of my daughters and also my son.”
“Until men look around the table and say, ‘You know what’s weird? There’s only two women here and there’s eight men.’ When that feels weird to a man, we will have achieved something,” she said. “We need half. That’s all we ask. Half. In the House. In the Senate. At Universal. At Sony. If it were half, I can’t say the world would be better, but it would be representative.”
“To have a film set where you have four or five actresses in a very strong scene together, you don’t get that,” the film’s screenwriter Abi Morgan said. “The very act of making the movie becomes quietly political.” “Suffragette” boasts an all-too-rare female behind-the-scenes team, which includes director Sarah Gavron and producers Alison Owen and Faye Ward.
“It would be an important thing for the film to raise the question of why, why [women’s rights] w[ere] so difficult and long a process,” Streep said. “What is the nature of this resistance? What is it in the human psyche that wants to reinforce a dominance?”
Watch the new UK “Suffragette” trailer below.