Why Meryl Streep’s Acceptance Speech Bothered Me (And It’s Not What You Think)
On Sunday Meryl Streep received the Cecil B. Demille Lifetime Achievement award at the Golden Globes for her acting work spanning forty-one years. She spent the better part of her speech talking about the diversity in the room with people born from many different backgrounds and countries. She then went on to say if, “you kick them all out you’ll be left with nothing to watch but Football and Mixed Martial Arts which are not the arts”.
Let me shed some light on why I was personally hurt by the quote above. No, I’m not a Trump supporter and my reasons are not even remotely political.
What I am, is a Geek of Martial Arts. I’ve been a martial “artist” for over twenty-two years. I started doing Tae Kwon Do at my local Dojo when I was 5 and started dabbling in a little Muay Thai by the time I was a teenager before getting a Muay Thai teaching certificate, when I was 22. The summer after I graduated high school I started training in no-gi Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and started in a gi about five years later. When I was 25 I got a teaching certificate in Krav Maga. I’ve also done Escrima, Jeet Kune Do, Judo and various other arts at dozens of seminars.
It’s afforded me the opportunity to train all over the country and with people of all walks of life. I got to talk to the green power ranger, Jason David Frank, a professional mixed martial artist on the phone once. Found out he was pretty much an ass.
I trained with another childhood hero, Willie “The Bam” Johnson. He worked me so hard that I had to change my t-shirt because it was drenched in sweat, I vomited after the class, and my legs were so tired that I couldn’t get off the toilet when I went to the bathroom. TMI? But it was all worth it because he called me a warrior and said that I was welcome to come train at his school anytime. What I’m most proud of with being a martial artist though, is when I took over a failing school and made it my own two years ago. I took ownership because martial arts has had such a profound impact on my life that I wanted to make sure that I was able to create that for someone else.
As you can imagine the disparaging comment from Meryl Streep about MMA hit very close to home for me.
I’d like to point out the obvious error in her comment, with the fact that Mixed Martial Arts literally contains the word “Arts” in it. That bugged me from the get go because she knows that it’s martial arts because she used the full word opposed to the more common abbreviation of MMA. That aside let’s discuss how MMA is indeed a form of art. Is it brutal and often messy? Yes, but that’s ok because art doesn’t have to be beautiful. Art is meant to evoke emotion. MMA does that, it illicits a response from the fighters themselves and their coaches who spend hours a day over weeks at a time perfecting a move to either see their fighter with their hand raised toward the rafters in victory or their heads hung low in defeat. It brings about emotions to the fans watching on TV as well as in the stands.
The premier MMA promotion in the US is the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and following all their major events they release a video entitled The Thrill and the Agony which shows the reaction of the fighters corner, the crowd, and the fighters back stage. The emotion is undeniable.
Meryl Streep loved to point out how the room was so diverse with people from so many different backgrounds. I’d like to remind her that when the Oscars were announced last year the hashtag #oscarssowhite emerged in response to the lack of diversity in acting nominations for the second year in a row.
The UFC currently has champions in ten weight classes for men and women and those ten belts are held by athletes from five different countries. Also the current women’s bantamweight champion is openly gay. It’d be anachronistic to bring up the decades of closeted actors and actresses from Hollywood’s history but how about in 1993 when director Jonathan Demme had to convince TriStar Pictures to hire actor Ron Vawter after the insurance company covering the film refused to extend coverage to him since he was HIV-Positive. The film was Philadelphia, which I hope the irony doesn’t get lost on anyone.
MMA is indeed an art form and has cultural diversity, where as Hollywood often lacks it. And there is one part where Meryl Streep is hypocritical to that point. After she talks about how we need diversity she goes on to state how we need to stand up to bullies and not let them push us around. She must be losing her mind after she criticized an entire sport and delegitimized them as an art form! The worst part is that it was a throwaway line not even directed anywhere close to where the original point of her speech was going. A poor choice of words Sophie, and yeah, it still bothered the hell out of me.
A piece of advice to the nineteen time Oscar nominee… Meryl, only read lines that other people have written for you, you’re much better at that.