LONDON — Meryl Streep has singled out two global institutions as bastions of lingering 21st century sexism—the Catholic Church, and the Rotten Tomatoes movie review site.
Hollywood’s most celebrated actress said the fight for equality was still raging almost a century after woman were granted the vote in Britain and the United States. Streep was speaking at the London Film Festival after a screening of Suffragette, her new film about the campaign of civil disobedience that helped secure women the right to vote after the First World War.
While promoting the movie, Streep has disappointed some people by distancing herself from the word “feminism.” “I am a humanist, I am for nice easy balance,” she told London’s Time Out magazine last week.
Asked by The Daily Beast if she stood by the assertion that she was not a feminist, she said: “There’s a phrase in this film that says ‘Deeds, not words.’ And that’s sort of where I stand on that. I let the actions of my life stand for where I am. Contend with that—not the words.”
Whether or not she sees herself as a feminist, Streep has become one of the most respected female voices in Hollywood. On Wednesday, she used that authority to issue a direct challenge to the movie critics: Give women a voice now.
The triple-Oscar winner said the entire American movie industry was being skewed by the dominance of male reviewers, who have different tastes and perspectives to women.
“The word isn’t disheartening—it’s infuriating,” she said.
Streep said she was disappointed to find that 37 men were listed on the New York Film Critics site and just two women, which meant men’s tastes were constantly prioritized and reinforced. Thinking about what generates buzz for a movie, Streep said the most influential single source was now Rotten Tomatoes.
“In the United States when people go to find a movie to watch at night, to go out to the movies they go to something called Rotten Tomatoes. So I went deep, deep, deep, deep into Rotten Tomatoes,” she said.
She said she had counted up all of the women critics whose opinions were included in the site’s Tomatometer.
“There are 168 women. And I thought that’s absolutely fantastic, and if there were 168 men it would be balanced. If there were 268 men it would be unfair but I would be used to it, if there were 360, if there were 4... actually there are 760 men who weigh in on the Tomatometer.”
“I submit to you that men and women are not the same, they like different things. Sometimes they like the same thing but sometimes their tastes diverge. If the Tomatometer is slighted so completely to one set of tastes that drives box office in the United States, absolutely.”
In Suffragette (which is so far scoring just 75% on Rotten Tomatoes), Streep plays Emmeline Pankhurst, the magnificent leader of the women’s rights movement in Britain. She was instrumental in radicalizing the movement to commit acts of civil disobedience, which eventually escalated to bombings in London and at the home of David Lloyd George, who would later become prime minister.
Streep appears only briefly in the film, telling the Suffragettes who followed her that violence was necessary. “I incite this meeting and all the women in Britain to rebellion,” she said. “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave.”
The genuine Pankhurst quote “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave” appeared as a slogan on T-shirts worn by Streep and her co-stars to promote the movie, which some American commentators have described as racially insensitive.
The film ends with a scrolling list of countries and when women there received the vote. The final name is Saudi Arabia, where women are still unable to vote in 2015.
Streep said women were also denied an equal right to power in religion. “I mean the Church is a body that excludes people,” she said. “There are two places you can’t vote in the world—in Saudi Arabia, although they are registering people supposedly, and the Vatican. That seems wrong to me.”