Meryl Streep’s equal opportunities plea virtually ignored by Congress

Meryl Streep

Meryl Streep has revealed she received only five responses after writing personally to all 535 members of the US congress calling for the introduction of new equality laws.

The three-time Oscar winning actor told an audience at the Telluride film festival, where her film Suffragette screened this weekend, that she was virtually ignored by the 435 representatives and 100 senators who make up the bicameral legislature.

“I sent them each a book called Equal Means Equal by Jessica Neuwirth,” said Streep, who cameos as women’s rights campaigner Emmeline Pankhurst in Sarah Gavron’s forthcoming feminist historical drama. “It’s about the revival of the attempt to get an ERA [Equal Rights Amendment], that would codify in law that you can’t discriminate against women. I got five answers.”

Hollywood’s own struggles with equality have been in the headlines over the past year and Streep noted that just 1% of movies were currently directed by women. “It has to do with our discomfort with women in leadership,” she said. At an earlier Telluride panel, the star of The Iron Lady and Kramer vs Kramer said young female film-makers “do exist, they graduate, they’re good – and then they don’t get hired. Why?” She added: “Maureen Dowd is writing a great big exposé about this question in the New York Times Magazine, coming up soon.”

The actor, who is remembered for pointing and shouting “yes!” at February’s Oscars when Patricia Arquette used her best supporting actress acceptance speech to call for equal pay and rights for women, said her own feminist instincts had been inspired by hearing her mother being forced to ask her father for money as a child, even though the former had her own job as a commercial artist. “I remember those conversations, hearing them upstairs, the back and forth,” said Streep. “I remember thinking, ‘I will never have to ask anybody for money. I will have my own money.’”

Suffragette, which stars Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Romola Garai, Anne-Marie Duff, Natalie Press, Ben Whishaw and Brendan Gleeson, is based on a screenplay by the British writer of Shame and The Iron Lady, Abi Morgan. Streep appears in just a single scene as Pankhurst, but has handled many of the press duties at Telluride with Mulligan absent due to pregnancy.

The film has been hailed with largely positive reviews at the festival, with Mulligan in particular beginning to attract Oscar buzz. However, the Guardian’s Catherine Shoard offered only guarded praise. “Suffragette doesn’t just exist on its own terms, but in its own time, too,” she writes. “It’s a peculiarly hermetic watch – the first world war, for instance, goes unmentioned. Gavron has made a decent film with near horizons, a civil disobedience picture that’s not as politely produced as you’d think. But a classic? I abstain.”