Meryl Streep won’t be getting on the Walt Disney bandwagon this awards season.
While presenting the best actress award to “Saving Mr. Banks” star Emma Thompson (for her portrayal of “Mary Poppins” author P.L. Travers) at Tuesday night’s National Board of Review awards gala, the actress railed against the “gender bigotry” and “racist proclivities” harbored by Disney (played in the film by Tom Hanks) while overseeing the studio that bears his name.
“Disney, who brought joy, arguably, to billions of people, was perhaps, or had some…racist proclivities,” said Streep. “He formed and supported an anti-Semitic industry lobby. And he was certainly, on the evidence of his company”s policies, a gender bigot.”
To back up the latter claim, Streep went on to quote chief Disney animator Ward Kimball (one of the original “Nine Old Men”), who stated: “‘He didn”t trust women or cats.'” She then read a letter – which she insisted would “tickle” Thompson (“a rabid, man eating feminist, like I am”) – written in 1938 to an aspiring female animator who had applied to join the studio’s training program in cartooning:
“‘Dear Miss Ford,
Your letter of recent date has been received in the inking and painting department for reply. 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 the directions.'”
“When I saw the film, I could just imagine Walt Disney”s chagrin at having to cultivate P.L. Travers” favor for 20 years that it took to secure the rights to her work,” Streep continued, referencing the main plot of the film that centers on Disney’s dogged efforts to procure the film rights to “Poppins” from a skeptical Travers. “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.”
It wasn’t all negative, of course – Streep offered up effusive praise for Thompson throughout her speech, describing her as “practically a saint…Emma makes you want to kill yourself, because she”s a beautiful artist, she”s a writer, she”s a thinker, she”s a living, acting conscience.”
You can check out a full transcript of Streep’s lengthy speech over at Vanity Fair.