Three-time Oscar-winner Meryl Streep waded into the debate over the lack of diversity in Hollywood during the opening press conference at the Berlin Film Festival, explaining away the festival’s all-white jury panel by telling reporters: “We’re all Africans really.”
Streep, who serves as jury president at this year’s Berlinale, labeled the festival “ahead of the game” on the issue of inclusion, according to the Associated Press.
“There should be inclusion, and this jury is evidence that at least women are included and in fact dominate this jury, and that’s an unusual situation in bodies of people who make decisions,” the actress said.
The film festival’s jury seven-member jury includes British actor Clive Owen, film critic Nick James, Polish director Malgorzata Szumowska, French photographer Brigitte Lacombe, German actor Lars Eldinger, and Italian actor Alba Rohrwacher.
The festival’s opening press conference was reportedly dominated by issues of diversity and inclusion, topics that have spurred heated debate and controversy in Hollywood after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominated exclusively white actors and actresses at this year’s Oscars. The move led some stars such as Will Smith and Spike Lee to boycott this year’s ceremony, while the Rev. Al Sharpton has called for a national “tune out” in protest.
Streep was reportedly asked if she understood films from the Arab world and from North Africa. The Iron Lady star said that while she did not understand much about films coming from that region, she has “played a lot of different people from a lot of different cultures.”
“There is a core of humanity that travels right through every culture, and after all we’re all from Africa originally,” Streep said. “You know, we’re all…. Berliners, we’re all Africans really.”
Variety reported that Streep made the comment in reference to John F. Kennedy’s famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” (“I am a Berliner”) quote: “We are all Africans, and we are all Berliners,” the outlet quoted Streep as saying.
Many of the films at the 66th annual Berlinale will focus on Europe’s refugee crisis. According to AFP, the festival will showcase roughly a dozen films related to the migrant crisis, with hundreds of screening tickets reportedly being set aside for refugees. The festival will also host donation drives for refugee charities at its gala events.
“Refugees have always played a role at the Berlinale, since 1951,” festival director Dieter Kosslick told the outlet. “Back then, many Germans were refugees and the festival was founded to foster understanding in German society and among nations.”
The Berlin Film Festival runs until February 21. Films from around the world vie for the top Golden Bear award and seven Silver Bear awards for acting and technical achievements.