Legendary actress Meryl Streep Was given the Cecil B. Demille Award for “outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment” at the Golden Globes on Sunday night. What followed was a rousing speech that moved some fellow Oscar winners to tears.
Streep chose to use the platform to admonish the President-elect Donald Trump, a noble cause — and this is coming from a Mexican man, the exact type of person he seems to have the most disdain for — and her words were powerful. She spoke of unity, diversity in Hollywood with both Americans from all backgrounds as well as international stars, and though she never spoke his name she clearly berated Trump for an incident when he mocked a disabled reporter on the campaign trail in South Carolina in 2015.
The speech has been lauded, but there were some curious moments, most notably her chiding of the sport of mixed martial arts. “And if we kick ’em all out,” she said of all of the international stars, “You’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.” The idea is, without all of the diversity present in Hollywood and at the Globes, we’d all be left with Trump and his supporters watching football and mixed martial arts, apparently the hobbies of the modern-day neanderthal.
The choice of MMA showed not only a gross misunderstanding of what the sport is, who participates in it, and who its audience is. Not only is alluding that MMA is the sport of the immigrant-loathing Trump supporter insulting, it’s just plain wrong. By inferring that Hollywood — a culture so white-washed that #OscarsSoWhite became a movement last year and actors and actresses of color boycotted the profession’s premiere event — was somehow more diverse than sports in general, but especially MMA, Streep made her tender and eloquent moment laughable, even for the briefest of moments.
If Streep took the time to factcheck herself she’d see that the current champions in UFC make up a more diverse field than the select Hollywood types that she cherry-picked for her speech. There’s heavyweight champion Stiep Miotic, a Cleveland native born to Croatian immigrant parents, Brazilian champions Jose Aldo and Amanda Nunes, Polish women’s strawweight champ Joanna Jędrzejczyk, and Brit Michael Bisping who is of noble, Polish descent.
And that doesn’t even begin to speak on the UFC’s black champions, including Tyron Woodley, a native of Ferguson, Missouri, yes that Ferguson. He too has admonished Trump publicly, saying “He gotta keep Ferguson out his mouth so he can keep my fist out of his mouth,” back in September. Woodley began his career by identifying with St. Louis for notoriety, but has worn his his hometown on his chest like a badge of honor on the national stage since Michael Brown was gunned down by Darren Wilson in 2014.
And that’s just a few of the 10 champions on the UFC’s roster. The entire top 10 of each division is loaded with international fighters. Reddit user novio_de_gaucho compiled the top 10 ranked fighters in each UFC division after Streep’s comment and calculated the percentage of international fighters at the top of the UFC talent pool. He concluded that of those 100 figures, both male and female, 42 were international, and that didn’t even include black or hispanic fighters. In all actuality, MMA might be the most diverse and international sport of them all, a fact that helped make the UFC worth a $4 billion dollar purchase last year by William Morris Endeavor, a talent agency that specializes in representing Hollywood figures.
At the 2017 Golden Globes, the event Streep celebrated for its diversity and international mix, only 10 of the 30 actors and actresses nominated in the six primary individual actor categories were either black or international and only one won, and that includes several British born actors and actresses. The other 20 were all American born white actors and actresses. That was up from last year when only three international or black actors were nominated, and none won. In fact, over the past three years, every single award in those major categories has been awarded to a white American or Brit, save for Viola Davis’ lone win on Sunday in the Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role category.
The message is clear: Hollywood, and its tastemakers like secretive and supposedly diverse 93 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association — which names all the nominees and chooses the winners for the Golden Globes — prefers its stories to feature and be told by lily white faces. Judging by the statues handed out at the Golden Globes and more prestigious Academy Awards, they have preferred that for decades.
The riveting Moonlight may have taken home the trophy for Best Motion Picture-Drama this year, but it’s just the 4th time in 40 years a film starring a person of color has done so. In that time, films headlined by blue aliens, a wizard and a group of (white) hobbits, a white man in a Native American tribe, a white couple in Africa, and a Mexican-American war hero played by Ben Affleck, a white man so white it became a joke in the 2008 comedy Role Models, have all won the award.
For as diverse as Streep says the Globes were, and Hollywood in general, there is hardly any evidence to back the claim. What’s worse, the escapism she attached to acting and “breathtaking, compassionate work” she applauded actors for could just as easily be said about MMA’s varied athletes and the sport as a whole.
Mixed martial arts is also “crawling with outsiders and foreigners” — setting aside the troubling and coded language tied to calling blacks, hispanics and foreigners “outsiders” — those same troubled and humble beginnings she attached to all those names she mentioned, including herself, could just as easily be to just about any fighter on the UFC, Belator, World Series of Fighting, Invicta FC rosters or any regional promotion or random gathering of MMA fans. When Streep mentioned she was “born and raised and educated in the public schools of New Jersey,” the same could be said of Frankie Edgar, an overachiever who rose through the ranks to become a champion and a legend in the sport.
Combat sports are the athletics of the impoverished, the troubled and those ultimately motivated to unfathomable lengths to overcome all of that and find a way into respectability. To dismiss MMA, and sports in general — avenues that are often the only paths to wealth for young people of color due to centuries of oppression — as little more than sideshow entertainment for the most abominable sect of the country is lazy, offensive and simply wrong. Streep could have made her point, and called Trump out for his many despicable acts without dragging MMA through the mud.
Hopefully she’ll take Bellator President Scott Coker up on his offer and attend Bellator 170 this month and discover that MMA is everything she claimed Hollywood to be, and then some.