Meryl Streep the rabid, man eating feminist

There was some awards partly last night and Meryl Streep was there to say something, and what she said was not the usual emollient drivel.

Ezra Pound said, ‘I have not met anyone worth a damn who was not irascible.’ Well, I have: Emma Thompson. Not only is she not irascible, she’s practically a saint. There’s something so consoling about that old trope, but 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.

Emma considers, carefully, what the fuck she is putting into the culture. Emma thinks: Is this helpful? Not will it build my brand? Not will it give me billions? Not does this express me? Me! Me! My unique and fabulous self, into all eternity in every universe for all time? Will I get a sequel out of it, or a boat? Or, a perfume contract?

Ezra Pound said, ‘I’ve never met anyone worth a damn who was not irascible.’ Well, he would say that because he was supposedly a hideous anti-Semite. But, his poetry redeems his soul. Disney, who brought joy, arguably, to billions of people, was perhaps, or had some…racist proclivities. He formed and supported an anti-Semitic industry lobby. And he was certainly, on the evidence of his company’s policies, a gender bigot.

Here’s a letter from 1938 stating his company’s policy to a young woman named Mary Ford, of Arkansas, who had made application to Disney for the training program in cartooning. And I’m going to read it here in Emma’s tribute because I know it will tickle our honoree, because she’s also a rabid, man eating feminist, like I am.

You remember that letter, right? I posted about it here quite recently.

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. 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.

I do like a good rabid feminist.


  1. Joey Maloney Who Is Unable To Login For Some Obscure Reason says

    Well, okay, but the film to all reports does the late Ms. Travers a grave disservice and thoroughly whitewashes Walt Disney’s behavior.

    I don’t expect a movie to be historically accurate unless it claims to be nonfiction, which this doesn’t, but I wonder how Emma Thompson reconciles dumping on the memory of the irascible Ms. Travers?

  2. Katherine Woo says

    Emma Thompson signed that absurd Polanski petition a few years ago. Although she did remove her name, I have to say i lost all respect for anyone who signed.

  3. says

    Floyd Norman was an African-American animator who worked for Disney and he believes Meryl made a wrong call.

    It’s a ‘product of his time’ argument, and we know how tiresome those can be, but Norman makes a good case:

    I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but the America of the nineteen thirties and forties is hardly the America we know today. Much has changed, and changed for the better. However, we can’t erase the mistakes of the past nor should we. We already know women were not given the opportunities they deserved back in the thirties. This was not something practiced at Walt Disney Productions alone. This was true of American business in general. Despite that, the women of Disney’s Ink & Paint Department have told me they’ve never had a better job. Were they denied the opportunity to compete with the boys over in the Animation Building? You bet they were. In spite of that, during the war years, young women proved they had what it took to compete with the big boys. Even in the forties, Mary Blair, Retta Scott, Bianca Majolie and Sylvia Holland showed they too had the right stuff. By the fifties, talented young women filled the ranks of Walt’s animation department and their names are too numerous to mention. For example, ever hear the name Phyllis Hurrell? She ran one of Walt Disney’s successful commercial departments at the studio. This was the early days of television and she made a ton of money for the mouse. You probably wouldn’t believe that Uncle Walt had a woman production head back in the fifties, now would you?

  4. sambarge says

    Katherine Woo @ #2

    Emma Thompson signed that absurd Polanski petition a few years ago. Although she did remove her name, I have to say i lost all respect for anyone who signed.

    That situation improved my opinion of Thompson, actually. After she signed the petition, she was schooled by fans through Twitter or whatever and, given the new information, she changed her opinion and removed her name from the petition. She apologized (a real one too, not one of those “sorry if I offended” ones) and admitted that she’d signed in ignorance of the facts of Polanski’s case.

    It’s rare that people are willing to acknowledge their mistakes and change their publicly expressed opinions like that. She was given facts, she changed her mind and publicly reversed her position. I love that.

  5. flippyshark says

    “He formed and supported an Anti-Semitic industry lobby”

    There is no turning Walt Disney into a liberal hero. But as far as I can tell, this claim is just plain not factual. After the animator’s strike in the 1940s, Walt Disney was most certainly anti-union, and happy to help the McCarthy witch hunt. But I cannot find any credible evidence that he harbored any specific animus against Jews. The worst I can find are some anecdotal accounts of him using insensitive phrases in casual conversation (“Have the accountants Jew up the numbers”) – and animator Art Babbit (who was Jewish and active in the unionizing of the animation studio) alleged that Walt and Roy Disney attended meetings of the German-American Bundt (for business reasons) in the years before WWII. (Can’t be confirmed) During the war, the Disney Studio produced plenty of anti-Nazi wartime propaganda, and there is no evidence that Walt had any pro-Nazi sentiments at that or any time. Indeed, he proudly took home an Oscar for the zany anti-Hitler Donald Duck short “Der Fuehrer’s Face.”

    He received a Man of the Year award from the B’nai Brith in 1958, an occasion he happily showed up for – not likely to happen if he had at any time been known as the organizer and supporter of an organized anti-Semitic lobby. Many of his closest associates and creative lights in the company were Jewish (which doesn’t disprove the personal accusation, I know.) The Sherman Brothers (the songwriters for Mary Poppins) knew Walt well in the last ten years of his life. They spoke warmly of him and considered the anti-semite charge a calumny. I have personally worked with and spoken to Marty Sklar, recently retired head of Walt Disney Imagineering. Also a Jew, he regards the idea as slander. (While admitting that Walt was often brusk and tactless in his day to day dealings)

    Not meaning to sound like an apologist – he was an imperfect man, and his creative legacy has its good and awful points. But the anti-Semitic notion seems to be more of a popular myth than anything rooted in fact. (Unlike Henry Ford, who left us plenty of documentary evidence of his racial hatred for the Jewish people.) And yes, hiring practice at the studio was utterly sexist. (And I love Emma Thompson for all the reasons Streep cites here.)

  6. Sili says

    Well, she did use to take out her tits and shake them at Stephen Fry to scare him – for whatever that’s worth.

  7. Katherine Woo says


    Your post reminds me of the Senators at the end of Quiz Show effusively praising Ralph Fiennes character for simply telling the truth. Then one Senator cuts in an notes no adult should be praised for meeting the low bar of basic honesty (after a string of lies and deception).

    And here you are praising Thompson because she eventually removed her name from a petition of support for a man who drugged and raped a girl and then fled justice.

    You do not deserve praise for that. If Thompson truly had no understanding of the “facts”, she had no business signing her name. No one deserves praise and “love” as you put it, for NOT supporting a child rapist.

  8. sambarge says

    Katherine Woo @ #8

    I wouldn’t equate “telling the truth” with “learning from facts and adjusting my opinion.” Thompson was misinformed about the nature of Polanski’s crime. She signed the petition believing that it was a statement about sexual freedom. To be fair to her, the details of Polanski’s crime (like the fact that the girl has “No” and that she called it rape right from the beginning) are not openly discussed or reported.

    Recently, Samantha Geimer (Polanski’s victim) published a memoir with details of which I wasn’t aware – and I thought I had read extensively on the case.

    I still respect a person who learns from facts. I just don’t think anyone knows everything and when a public figure acknowledges their error and adjusts their opinion/position, it’s a good thing.

    But you can hate/disrespect her if you like. I was just letting you know how I viewed it.

  9. brucegee1962 says

    Comment 1 is my favorite so far. It was bad enough for Disney to dump all over P.L. Travers while she was still alive to defend herself, but it takes a special kind of horrid to dig up her corpse just so you can dump all over it some more.

    I’ve read the original Mary Poppins, and the film axes the aspects the make it quintessentially British by transforming it into an American pro-nuclear-family fairy tale. The parents were really, really not involved with their children in the book, AND THERE WASN”T ANY FEELING THAT THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO BE. Disney had a particular view of what a family should look like, and it was in direct opposition to everything Travers’ book stood for. Now, I loved the movie as a child, and as an American, I actually prefer Disney’s version to hers. But portraying her in a way that makes her ultimate feelings out to be the exact opposite of what they really were seems as disrespectful as it is possible to be.

  10. says

    Well yes. I haven’t seen the new movie (and don’t plan to), but from the trailers it looks…irritating. I grew up on the books, and loved them – they were so funny, so unsentimental, so uncuddly. Mary Poppins is so unJulie Andrews it’s hard to think of worse casting. I’ve never seen the Disney because it’s so obviously so revolting.

    Emma Thompson though listened to recordings of the meetings Travers had with the studio and seems to have found her quite unpleasant…unless she (Thompson) was just flattering her US audience.

    But, I dunno. Since Disney did completely miss the point of Mary Poppins, I’m not sure Travers was wrong to be so disdainful of everyone.

    I wonder why he was so determined to get the rights to the book when he wanted to change it so thoroughly.

    Mind you, I also wondered that about Thompson’s screenplay for Sense & Sensibility. She promoted Margaret into a major character and made everyone lavish attention on her. Well that’s not Austen.

  11. Shatterface says

    It’s rare that people are willing to acknowledge their mistakes and change their publicly expressed opinions like that. She was given facts, she changed her mind and publicly reversed her position. I love that.


    People who change their minds seem to get criticised twice as much as people who stick to their mistakes: firstly for making the mistake, then for apologising for something they shouldn’t have done in the first place.

    It’s one of the reasons I’m wary of using terms like ‘humiliating u-turn’ whenever a politician concedes to your demands. I mean, where’s the incentive if it just opens them up to another slap in the face?

  12. Katherine Woo says

    I’m a “purist” for thinking that you do not support a man who drugged and sodomized a girl and then fled justice. And that if you do support him initially out of carelessness, it hardly makes you any sort of hero to withdraw that support later.

    In any context but a woman you clearly admire (I like a lot of her work myself), I think you would see the entire Polanski petition as a manifestation through and through of rape culture.

  13. says

    I was extremely annoyed by the whole “poor dear Polanski” uproar. I’m not even slightly defending the petition. I’m saying your comment @ 8 was excessive. That’s what I think.

    Don’t presume to know that I’m playing favorites. I don’t particularly admire her. I like some things and not others.


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