Meryl Streep Blasts Walt Disney at National Board of Review Dinner

Meryl Streep
Dimitrios Kambouris/FilmMagic

Emma Thompson, Bruce Dern, Octavia Spencer and Will Forte accept awards at dinner gala

The National Board of Review dinner is like the big pre-game to the Golden Globes, where wine bottles are uncorked in New York and don’t stop flowing until the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s gala on Sunday. But this year’s ceremony will forever be remembered for its nine-minute tour-de-force speech from Meryl Streep.

Streep, for once, wasn’t invited to accept an award. Instead, she was there to honor Emma Thompson for her portrait as “Mary Poppins” creator P.L. Travers in Disney’s “Saving Mr. Banks.”

There was plenty of effusive Thompson praising in the speech — with phrases like “she’s practically a saint” and “she’s a beautiful artist” — and it ended with a poem that Streep had written for her friend titled “An Ode to Emma, Or What Emma is Owed.” But Streep also made a point of blasting Walt Disney for his sexist and anti-Semitic stances.

The edgy riff offered a different perspective on Disney from the sugarcoated hero played by Tom Hanks in “Saving Mr. Banks.” Streep was once rumored to be in the running for the role of P.L. Travers, although her remarks suggest why she might not have pursued the project.

“Some of his associates reported that Walt Disney didn’t really like women,” Streep said, quoting esteemed animator Ward Kimball on his old boss: “He didn’t trust women or cats.”

Streep talked about how Disney “supported an anti-Semitic industry lobbying group” and called him a “gender bigot.” She read a letter that his company wrote in 1938 to an aspiring female animator. It included the line, “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.”

The quirky National Board of Review committee announces its winners early, so the real surprise is in what they will say on-stage. This year’s list of honorees included Thompson for best actress, Bruce Dern for best actor (“Nebraska”), Will Forte for best supporting actor (“Nebraska”) and Octavia Spencer for best supporting actress (“Fruitvale Station”). The Weinstein Co.’s drama, made only for $1 million, also received recognition for best-directorial debut (Ryan Coogler) and breakthrough performance (Michael B. Jordan).

“Her” landed best picture and best director for Spike Jonze.

The night opened with Coogler accepting his award from Lee Daniels. Coogler paid tribute to Oscar Grant, whose 2009 BART police shooting inspired his picture, which he partially filmed at his grandmother’s house in Oakland, Calif. “Statistically, I’m not even supposed to be alive from where I came from,” Coogler said. “There are so many Oscar Grants … who see their lives ended senselessly on the streets.”

Michael B. Jordan thanked his father. “He really showed me what it means to be a man,” Jordan said. “He sacrificed for his family and he put himself last a lot of times.”

Jordan remembered getting cast on HBO’s “The Wire” at 16. “Life was amazing,” he said until episode 12 when he learned that his character would be killed on-screen.

“No actor on that show wanted that visit from [creator] David Simon,” he mused. “Actors were dropping left and right.” And then he moved to Los Angeles, where he was on a “7-11 diet. It’s exactly what it sounds like. You go to 7-11, and whatever you can afford, you eat that week.”

Ex-“Sopranos” scribe Terence Winter accepted best-adapted screenplay for “Wolf of Wall Street” from Edie Falco and Steve Buscemi. Joel and Ethan Coen were singled out for their “Inside Llewyn Davis” original screenplay and offered a characteristically short speech.

Some of the winners were repeats from the previous night’s New York Film Critic’s Circle Awards, including best animated feature (“The Wind Rises”) and best documentary (“Stories We Tell”).

The best ensemble prize for “Prisoners” was given to Maria Bello, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano and Terrence Howard. And the trifecta of directors turned actors in “Wolf of Wall Street”–Rob Reiner, Spike Jonze and Jon Favreau–presented the Spotlight Award to Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese.

“We were never around when there was naked women,” Reiner complained.

DiCaprio and Scorsese gave a funny speech where they completed each other’s sentences.

“Keep it short,” Scorsese said.

“You mean, under-three-hours short?” DiCaprio asked, alluding to their film’s 179-minute running time.

“Saturday Night Live’s” Seth Meyers introduced his ex-costar Will Forte. “I’m not used to getting awards,” Forte said. “My family members have actually lost friends because they’ve sent those friends to the movies I’ve been in.”

Dern said that at 77, he found the role of a lifetime in “Nebraska.”

“I’ve never had someone give me an opportunity and believe in me and trust me like Alexander [Payne],” he said. “I knew I had a friend who I could trust.”

After thanking Streep for her tribute, Thompson launched into a comedy routine that urged women to stop wearing high heels, among other punch lines.

“It’s such a cold night,” Thompson said of New York’s record-low temperature. “It’s the only time I’ve been actively grateful for the menopause.”

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  1. Tom Dockery says:

    I knew that I was right in rooting for Dustin Hoffman in the custody case.Disney’s alleged disdain for cats is the only charge with which I would find fault.

  2. Daisy D says:

    Sounds sensible, but in fact Streep was mouthing a popular rumor. Plenty of females worked at Disney studios.

  3. Daisy D says:

    Disney was a genius. Streep is an actress. ‘nuf said.

  4. Roger Smith says:

    A couple of years ago, there was a multi-page article in March 2010, Vanity Fair that said definitively that multitudes of women were drawing for Disney, and it was on one of his biggest cartoons, Fantasia or maybe Snow White. If I remember correctly, it seemed that women were preferred for this particular task and were treated very well by Walt, though it was long, tedious hours. The women interviewed seemed quite pleased with their situation and of course, with the resultant work. Streep is WAY off base on this. I smell sour grapes,

  5. Debbie Valenta says:

    While I am extremely disappointed in Streep, I would ask that those commenting here do not conflate liberalism with ignorance and bad taste. They do not go hand in hand, I assure you, and if Streep were a well-known conservative, Variety’s liberal-leaning readers (raises hand) would still be taking her to task for her comments.

    • Biff Wattson says:

      Misdirection – This isn’t about left or right, it’s about someone’s timing to make inappropriate statements.

    • Hombre says:

      This was not an expression of opinion. Instead, she presented “documentation” purporting to establish her comments as fact. If Disney were alive, he would have grounds for a slander lawsuit.

      There is nothing “immature” about being intolerant of this woman’s defamation of a now dead giant of her industry. Her comments were unnecessary and unacceptable even if true – which they were not.

      • Debbie Valenta says:

        Dude, you don’t understand what I was writing. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts. If you scroll down, you’ll see a number of comments from me to the affect that I’ve lost all respect for her, that she was spewing decades-old lies about Walt, etc. I was merely stating that being uninformed and spewing in an inappropriate venue has ZERO to do with whether one is conservative or liberal and that commenters here should stop holding up her liberalism as some sort of proof that she’s a moron.

  6. Smith Jones says:

    Dame Streep is profoundly overrated. And raging against Disney? Might as well rage against the entire culture of the time.

  7. ppie says:

    Is it fair or even intellectually honest to be labelling the guy an antisemite and sexist. He’s been dead for over 40 years and you’re basing this on a single quote from who? Siting one corporate letter that was common and pervasive thinking at the time. You can pull letters from every corporation at that time and up until world war two. They were all reluctant to hire women and if they did they weren’t treated equally as men. It’s said whenever a stupid actor opens their dumb mouths with their opinions but stick to acting and the lines that are written for you.

    • Debbie Valenta says:

      And he hired Retta Scott to animate Bambi three years after that letter was dated. And the great Mary Blair has her inimitable mark all over Disney’s early animated films, as well as Disneyland.

    • Smith Jones says:

      Good points here. The entire working world was very hard for women back then. In all professions.

  8. Steamboat says:

    Amazing! Did she know him? He’s only been dead for over 40 years!

  9. Amy Brown says:

    Ms. Streep should stick to her acting and keep her phobia;s to herself.

  10. scottfont says:

    Did Ms. Streep bother to read the great biography of Disney? Hundreds and then thousands of women worked at his company. They did ‘tracing’ type work, taking the original drawings and producing multiple copies needed to turn ‘stills’ into animation.

    Women didn’t fly airplanes for our government in those days either, till WW2 when they moved new planes around the country, then the world. Wasn’t until very recently that they were allowed to fly in ‘combat’.

    My point is, she is trying to blame Mr. Disney for cultural reality. In fact, the company has provided many great opportunity for many and all.

  11. Kate says:

    Another actor I won’t be watching. Really….you need to not speak out with your opinions when your pay is based on whether we PAY and see your movies. Haven’t watched a ton of movies in the last 15 years after the main actor has trashed my values, beliefs, etc…can’t seem to watch a movie and not see the real person spouting off. So I don’t go.

    • Rhett says:

      Someone else probably wrote those silly lines for her.

    • Teresa Welby says:

      Really? She is one of the two greatest actors of my generation, Emma Thompson being the other, and you won’t go see her because you do not like something she said? That’s your loss.
      I don’t agree with the views of a lot of Actors, but I still go see their work. The only line I draw is at pedophiles. Won’t put money in their pockets.

    • Jim says:

      I quit her a long time ago. Does anyone remember her insulting Julia Child?

    • mavs says:

      Kate can’t people have their own opinions? I am amazed of how many people consider that actors must always keep their thoughts to themselves…you will not be seeing her movies just because she slammed Walt Disney?? I love Disney and I did not give a damn about what she said…because in the end is her OPINION. So please I hope you reconsider what you said because truly that is very immature from you.

      • Kate says:

        Of course they or anyone can have their own opinion. Just like you do. I don’t have to pay to watch her because I disagree with said “opinion”. And that is my right.

      • Debbie Valenta says:

        People are entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts, especially when a human being, his reputation and his family and legacy are affected. An hour’s worth of un-biased research on the Internet would have completely scuttled her plans for that 10-minute screed. She’s much more intelligent than that and I expected better from her. Especially when she’s cashing Disney checks.

      • Hombre says:

        This was not an expression of opinion. Instead, she presented “documentation” purporting to establish her comments as fact. If Disney were alive, he would have grounds for a slander lawsuit.

        There is nothing “immature” about being intolerant of this woman’s defamation of a now dead giant of her industry. Her comments were unnecessary and unacceptable even if true – which they were not.

  12. Ian Wright says:

    So Streep quotes Ezra Pound whle criticising Disney? She obviously doesn’t know Pound was an avowed anti semitic, and supporter of National Socialism and Adolf Hitler. The woman has an IQ number way below room temperature, as well as she is a poor actress. I avoid her films like the plague.

    • mickyg1963 says:

      You criticise her IQ, yet call her a poor actress despite the fact that she’s the most Oscar-nominated actress in film history, winning three times, along with numerous Golden Globe wins and many other acting awards from all over the world. If you are going to criticise her then criticise her view not her talent, because criticising the latter only leaves you open to the same diatribe that you aim at her – i.e. that you are equally ignorant of the facts concerning someone who is so obviously gifted in her chosen profession.

    • Kate says:

      Thank you. Well said.

    • Smith Jones says:

      Dame Streep is certainly overrated.

  13. Nanny Mo says:

    B.S., get your history straight. Walt will be remember long after Streeple is just another Irene Done. (Go and watch Walt Disney on the Front Lines to see what Walt did to try and stop Hitler. Hitler hated Walt. Get your history straight.)

  14. Corey Judie says:

    Um. If you actually did any research, you would see that Judaism encompassed many different nationalities and races. That is the exact opposite of xenophobic.
    Also, Jews shouldn’t marry someone with dissimilar beliefs. No one should. How can you have harmony in a home when you don’t agree at your core? Your rant is irrelevant.

  15. Walt says:

    I could never understand MS’s success….she is just a female impersonator. Rich Little was the best impersonator ever and he never won jack.

  16. JimW says:

    Long after Meryl Streep is completely relegated to irrelevancy, Walt Disney will still be remembered for the his artistry, talent and genius. Sorry, Meryl!

  17. Walt Disney had more talent in a single drop of sweat that Streep has in her entire person!

  18. Vendome says:

    50 years from now, Walt Disney will still be celebrated throughout the world, while Meryl Streep will be noted as a reasonably good actress that did a couple of movies.

    Betty Davis was a better actress than Meryl Streep and Betty Davis will be remembered as a GREAT Actress.

    The self absorption of the current crop of actors in Hollywood is just mind blowing.

    • fableanne says:

      We can always keep our wallets shut and not watch any movie she is in, whether it was a movie made 35 years ago or since then. She is ranting on about a letter written in 1938. 76 years ago! Good grief.

  19. Bob S. says:

    How brave to attack someone 50 years dead.

  20. In case she didn’t notice, Walt Disney is dead. If she wants to start calling out EVERYONE IN HISTORY who was a “gender bigot,” she better give up her film career and GET BUSY! She’s got a lot of work to do, silly nitwit.

  21. Walt Disney films were good family Value films. I grew up with them. You learned a lot about good moral values. Compared to todays films which are destroying family values and our culture. I hold Walt Disney in high esteem. Much more than I would hold any of the current actors or actresses in Hollywood today. There are no values that follow family values except to destroy what little is left.

  22. When I grew up in Westwood (UCLA), two sisters and their mother lived across the street, and both worked in animation at Disney and seemed to love their work.

    Streep is trashing a dead man’s reputation, Walt Disney, which speaks volumes about her.

  23. You know, because it’s important, appropriate, and especially classy to spew venom at and spit on the grave of someone who has been dead for almost 50 years.

  24. Steve K says:

    Obviously, Meryl never marinated in the wonderful Disney messages such as, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all”

  25. mary says:

    Ms. Streep is probably correct in what she said about Walt Disney, but she has failed to take into account that he was, quite simply, a man of his time and culture. His attitudes reflected the norms of his day. That doesn’t make it right, but are you going to condemn all men born before 1960?

  26. Kate says:

    Thanks, Meryl, for killing any chance of Saving Mr. Banks from getting an oscar. Some friend you are, Emma.

  27. Mac says:

    Another bitter has-been spouting venom against a better person,

    • mickyg1963 says:

      Look up her achievements right up to the present day. Hardly a ‘has been’. Besides, at least she’s not a ‘never will be’.

  28. CW says:

    He’s long dead. Why is she suddenly blasting him now?

  29. gdturner says:

    Aging is such a challenge. Good luck with that Merrill. Re the 1938 quote, he is also reported to
    have said in 1898……. It’s best to know when to get off the stage.

  30. jack says:

    And I would ever deny that the statement by Disney is bigoted. He is simply stating a fact as he was asked. He did not say they do not want them there. He was asked, and he answered. Back in 1938 that was very common to have places of employment with no females.

  31. Di says:

    She is a fool!

  32. Lre says:

    Good for Walt …

  33. d1m1tr1 says:

    I thought she was remarking about Louis farakan. my bad.

  34. J C says:

    She’s upset over something a dead man said in 1938?????? Hollywood is such a wasteland…. and if Variety owned a pair, they would have taken her to task for such nonsense.

  35. Tweety says:

    Meryl Streep is ONLY an actress. Who cares what she thinks? She’s a ham actress. She’s one of the homeliest women in the film industry. Emma Thompson is a far better actress than she is.

  36. TravlnTexan says:

    Reminiscent of Kanye West and Taylor Swift.

  37. A. Adams says:

    AH SHUT UP MERYL! Mr. Disney hired and paid and changed the lives of more people than you did your idiot! You don’t know anything about the man. I doubt he made comments like that to you because you never met him.

  38. Jamesb says:

    Oh ok, Meryl put on her “smart person” glasses – which immediately makes her an expert – regardless of context, history of facts. Got it.

    What a dimwit. Mer – just shut up and read you lines.

  39. moondance says:

    Meryl Streep sounds much better when she sticks to lines written for her by others….

  40. Susan L. says:

    Gender bias in 1938? Of course, I experienced it in the 1970’s. Unfortunately, It was the times we lived in. We’ve come a long way thanks to all of us. I’m disappointed in Meryl Streep.

  41. WagTheDog says:

    BINGO!

  42. Larry Huffman says:

    Let’s see…. how old was Ms. Streep when Walt Disney died? What facts does she cite? Perhaps most importantly, of what value is political or public opinion from someone who makes their living by “playing pretend?”

  43. WagTheDog says:

    Once again we are shown proof that acting ability has no relation to IQ, common sense, or even reality. But this is Streep’s first public transgression … perhaps we should forgive this one.

  44. Boondoggler says:

    Ho Hum. Who doesn’t believe in the first statement about cats? And back then, there probably wasn’t any women in the creative process. Get over yourself Streep.

  45. Robert Spreitzer says:

    No “spoonful of sugar” can help make Streep’s nonsense go down.

  46. Rick Ricks says:

    Streep talked about how Disney “supported an anti-Semitic industry lobbying group” and called him a “gender bigot.” She read a letter that his company wrote in 1938 to an aspiring female animator. It included the line, “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.”
    That is not a sexist comment. It was a fact. Remember though this was 1938 and the world was different then. Also, if you are so bothered by Disney, why are you appearing in Disney’s ” Into The Woods” next year?

    • Walt didn’t even write the letter she quoted from. Walt was very open to women artists, told the LA Times he thought women would eventually make contributions to animation that no man ever would or could. He wasn’t a “gender bigot”.

  47. Lorelord says:

    How can you go back to a man that lived in a time where certain ideas and thought processes where considered common place and say he was all these bad things? Its like saying the Archie Bunker show “All in the family” was a seriously racist show, it should have been cancelled! It was mainstream back then and many people enjoyed that show regardless of its undertones. In the Honeymooners, Jackie Gleasons’ character always talked about hitting his wife “to the moon”, a phrase and statement that would be considered highly offensive today, but NOT then. Streep needs to get over herself. 50 years from now, people will call our generation misguided and bigoted no matter how socially enlightened we think we are now…..pointing fingers at icons of the past and yelling from the rooftops how we shouldn’t revere them for what they did rather we should shun them for what they thought, or what we claim they thought. Basically, shut the heck up Streep, you are whats wrong with society. Everyone has flaws, even you.

  48. Kummin says:

    Another bunch of actors giving each other awards. Who cares what any of them have to say about anything?

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