Meryl Streep should have taken a cue from Abraham Lincoln’s famous admonition, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” Streep, flaunting her highly suspect intellectual credentials but absolutely certain political correctness, vilified the late Walt Disney Jan. 7 at the National Board of Review awards ceremony.
Streep presented the best actress trophy to Emma Thompson, who plays Mary Poppins author P. L. Travers in Disney’s Saving Mr. Banks. Ms. Streep said Disney “had some racist proclivities” and “supported an anti-Semitic industry lobbying group and [was] a gender bigot.”
One awards consultant genuflected:
I thought, Oh, wow, she didn’t have to do that. She’s giving an award to Emma Thompson for a film that’s sort of a love letter to Disney! But she’s Meryl Streep — she can say whatever she wants. Her film [August: Osage County] was not going to get nominated for best picture anyway.
Streep lauded Thompson as a “rabid, man-eating feminist,” but tried to mitigate her remarks about Disney by lamely adding that Disney, “brought joy, arguably, to billions of people.”
The actual evidence shows that Disney was no more racist than what was characteristic of the time; he was amused by a watermelon-eating black centaur girl in Fantasia but also asked NAACP officials and other black leaders to view the action/animated film Song of the South and warn him what would be considered racist. Some phrases and words like “darkie” were removed.
As far as Disney’s supposed sexism, Streep read a 1938 letter from Disney telling a female prospective employee:
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. 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 directions.
But one animation expert said that there were no women anywhere in Hollywood at the time; they were relegated to inking and painting. He explained, “That was an industry-wide practice. There were, however, a number of women working at [Disney] in a creative capacity during that time, mostly in story development.”
In 1941, Disney defended women to the men working on Dumbo, stating, “If a woman can do the work as well, she is worth as much as a man. The girl artists have the right to expect the same chances for advancement as men, and I honestly believe they may eventually contribute something to this business that men never would or could.”
Disney hired his first female animator, Retta Scott, in 1942 for Bambi, and Mary Blair was the art supervisor and color stylist for Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan. By 1959, Disney was writing, “Women are the best judges of anything we turn out. Their taste is very important. They are the theatergoers, they are the ones who drag the men in. If the women like it, to heck with the men.”
Disney’s anti-Semitism is the biggest myth of all; Neal Gabler, author of Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination, said, “It would be unfair to label him an anti-Semite himself, There is no evidence whatsoever in the extensive Disney Archives of any anti-Semitic remarks or actions by Walt.” Herman “Kay” Kamen, a Jew, was Disney’s merchandising chief, and Kamen once joked that Disney’s New York office “had more Jews than the Book of Leviticus.”
Disney donated to The Hebrew Orphan Asylum of the City of New York, Yeshiva College, and the Jewish Home for the Aged.
The claims of anti-Semitism were drummed up by Snow White animators Art Babbitt and David Hilberman, who were furious when the animators went on strike in 1941. Disney was convinced the strike was fomented by communists, whom he hated, and he joined the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, which was anti-Semitic but primarily anti-communist.
Douglas Brode, the Jewish author of Multiculturalism and the Mouse: Race and Sex in Disney Entertainment, said:
There is zero hard evidence that Disney ever wrote or said anything anti-Semitic in private or public. His films feature a wide array of great Jewish actors in the most diverse roles imaginable, more so than any other studio of Hollywood’s golden age, including those run by Jewish movie moguls. Finally, there is no evidence in the work of anti-Semitism via negatively portrayed Jewish characters. Disney, let’s recall, was the first filmmaker ever to cast a Jewish actor, Ed Wynn, as Santa Claus, in Babes in Toyland. We ought to give Disney the benefit of the doubt. Such attacks, including the recent one by Ms. Streep, constitute the repetition of a vicious rumor that has no basis in anything that can be thought of as fact.
But to return to Streep, lest we forget, this titan of intellectual prowess once said, “If everybody that had two cars had a Prius instead of an SUV, we wouldn’t be in the Middle East right now.” And this is the same woman responsible for spearheading the Alar scare in 1989, which crippled the apple industry; 20,000 apple growers in the U.S. suffered severe losses, although 97% of the farmers never used it. The actual amount fed to mice in the lab to get the reaction needed for the anti-Alar group was the equivalent of an adult eating 28,000 pounds of Alar-treated apples each year for 70 years. The claim in 1986 by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a self-appointed environmental activist group, was that Alar was an “imminent hazard,” which would caused it to be immediately banned.
Although the NRDC claimed there was evidence Alar caused cancer, the evidence was never published to be reviewed by qualified scientists. EPA set up a “special review” panel, and it rejected the NRDC results. In April 1989, Science magazine condemned the report the NRDC had issued.
Streep was still defending her role in 2002, saying:
Before the Alar drama of 1989, I would say that most mainstream moms had no idea that a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables might contain certain substances that could cross the placenta and have an effect on their unborn children; or that once the child was born that toxins would enter their bodies through their breast milk; or that, once weaned, those little bodies taking in gallons of apple juice and mashed bananas and everything else might contain substances that might prove problematic later on in their lives. The thing that I came away with from the Alar controversy was that I realized I am not an activist.
That’s only partly true; Streep’s only an activist when an American icon can be delivered on a platter for her PC Hollywood crowd.