Meryl Streep’s Cecil B. DeMille Award acceptance speech went viral after she slammed Donald Trump for mocking a disabled reporter during his election campaign.
By pointing out Trump’s disgusting behaviour, Streep acknowledged the power dynamic that exists between powerful establishments and disabled people. I applaud her for using her platform to highlight oppression and abuse of power.
Lets not pretend that the very industries she defended are shining beacons of equality and diversity.
The film industry is constantly perpetuating untruths and stereotypes about minority groups that have an effect on our lived realities. People of colour are often portrayed as the violent bad guy, or are the comic-relief wingman of the white protagonist.
When people of colour are dominating casts of more than one movie, Hollywood can’t even deal. Two films mentioned at the Golden Globes with mostly African-American casts were Fences and Hidden Figures. How many times did we hear presenters say ‘Hidden Fences’? Is it a coincidence that they got the names of two African-American films mixed up? I think not. Remember #OscarsSoWhite?
And while she’s defending the disabled, it’s worth mentioning that disabled characters are almost invisible in Hollywood. On the few occasions when we are seen on screen, we’re played by an able-bodied actor pretending to be disabled, rather than a perfectly capable disabled actor.
The media is not exactly innocent either. While the major news outlets were applauding her for speaking out against oppression, they failed to recognise the role they play in perpetuating that oppression. Mainstream media is an industry created and maintained by the dominant culture.
They continue to run one-sided and sensationalist stories about minorities who, like the disabled reporter, lack the political or social power to defend themselves. It is also an institution that we’re constantly being kept out of, which is why minorities have had to create alternative platforms to express themselves.
I love Meryl Streep. She is an incredible actor and her speech was on the right track. Trump is a deplorable narcissist and the media needs to hold him to account for the amount of hate his words incite. But we’re the ones who need to hold the media to account. They have a huge amount of power in bridging gaps and fighting injustice.
It’s annoying that we only hold power to account when their politics or views are opposite to our own while turning a blind eye when our own side does wrong.
Until the mainstream media recognises the power they hold to combat oppression and inequality, the press will never be ‘principled’. Perhaps we wouldn’t need someone else to talk about ableism if the world took us seriously enough to include us in these conversations in the first place. It is our story to tell.