UPDATE: A full transcription of Streep's speech can be found at Vanity Fair, including her referring to herself and Thompson each as "a rabid, man-eating feminist."
When a person dies, it's a bizarre bit of human nature that often urges his/her survivors to gloss over or forget the departed's flaws and remember only his/her attributes. Biopics often cement such shiny depictions, making complicated people into outright heroes. Some could argue Disney's Saving Mr. Banks does that for the studio's founder Walt Disney. Well, Meryl Streep, who was once considered for the role of the film's female lead, has decided to set the record straight.
EW and Variety report Streep turned out to present the Best Actress honor of the National Board of Review to Emma Thompson for her role as Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers in Saving Mr. Banks. But when she took to the podium, she did more than sing the praises of her friend and peer Thompson, she called out Disney for anti-Semitism and gender bigotry.
In a ten-minute speech, Streep celebrated Thompson, even offering a poem "An Ode to Emma or What Emma is Owed." She tied her praise for the heralded English actress into the dark side of Disney's legacy. Her remarks in part:
"Some of his associates reported that Walt Disney didn’t really like women. There is a piece of received wisdom that says that the most creative people are often odd or irritating, eccentric, damaged, difficult; that along with enormous creativity comes certain deficits in humanity or decency. We are familiar with this trope in our business: Mozart, Van Gogh… Tarantino, Eminem. Ezra Pound said, ‘I have not anyone worth a damn who was not irascible.’ Well I have: Emma Thompson.
Basically, Streep is saying we tend to excuse creative people from doing terrible things because we like what they create. But she thinks Thompson needs no such forgiveness. She went on:
"Disney, who brought joy arguably to billions of people was, perhaps, or had some racist proclivities. He formed and supported an anti-Semitic industry lobbying group and he was certainly, on the evidence of his company’s policies, a gender bigot…When I saw the film (Saving Mr. Banks), I could just imagine Walt Disney’s chagrin at having to cultivate P.L. Travers’ favor for the 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."
To show how Disney's sexist views of women impacted his company's behavior, she then read from a letter the Disney company sent to an aspiring female animator in 1938 that said, "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.For this reason, girls are not considered for the training school."
With comments like these, it's pretty crystal clear why Streep didn't end up in the role of Saving Mr. Banks's Travers. Some might think the NBR stage was not the place for such a statement, but Thompson didn't seem to mind. Reportedly she was "nauseous with gratitude" over her friend's speech. As to the crowd, EW says Streep's speech--performed wearing a bit of Nebraska swag in the form of a trucker hat reading "Prize Winner"--was "funny," "charming," "bold" and "brought down the house."
Here's hoping video of the speech surfaces soon.