A Grain Of Saul: Why We Should Listen To Meryl Streep (And Hollywood)

Why ignore a diverse group of incredibly hard-working and successful people?

A Grain of Saul is a weekly column that digs into some of the biggest issues we face as a nation and as an international community in search of reliable data, realistic solutions, and — most importantly — hope.  

Meryl Streep gave a moving acceptance speech at the Golden Globes on Sunday night, one that quickly ignited conversation and divided social media.

At the heart of her speech were two appeals to viewers: a defense of Hollywood and a call for empathy. Both are worthwhile things for Americans to consider.

Courtesy HFPA Photographer, The Golden Globes.
Courtesy HFPA Photographer, The Golden Globes.

Streep is right when she says that Hollywood is made up of a diverse collection of people from all over the world. If they're at the Golden Globes, they're the kind of people who bet everything on their dream of making it in one of the most competitive industries in America. As Streep proved in the opening of her speech, they come from a wildly varied backgrounds: Streep herself is from the public schools of New Jersey, just like my family. Sara Paulson is from Florida and was raised by a single mom in Brooklyn. Sarah Jessica Parker had seven siblings and is from the battleground state of Ohio. Ruth Negga was born in Ethiopia and raised in Ireland. And so on.

And all those people, from all over the United States and the world, worked their entire lives to be as successful as they are. They worked so hard, in fact, that they ended up becoming the best at what they do, and earned the right not just to show up at the Golden Globes, but to use their platform to thoughtfully express their opinions.

Is Hollywood in touch with the struggle of regular, everyday Americans? Maybe not. 

But surely, the film industry is just as in touch as president-elect Donald Trump, who won this election thanks to a populist movement while he went home to a gold-plated penthouse in New York City and has always been abundantly wealthy. Surely, Sarah Jessica Parker — who grew up in a rural Ohio town with seven siblings and is the daughter of a truck driver — has just as much of a right as Trump to speak about politics, her life and what it means to be American. Right?

It confuses me, then, that so many of us have joined a chorus about how "Hollywood should shut up" when it comes to issues of politics, race, religion, or any other topic all other Americans are guaranteed the right to speak about by our Constitution. It begs an even more confounding question when that chorus comes from conservatives, whose most quoted and idolized political figure is Ronald Reagan, a man whose career first blossomed as a Hollywood star. 

In fact, I'd argue the opposite. Of all the rich and famous people in the world, Hollywood actors are probably the most likely to have come from an ordinary background. Sure, some were raised in a theatrical, "liberal elite" households, maybe sent to elite acting academies or private schools with expensive tuitions. But far more, I'm sure, are just people who chased a dream that everyone told them was impossible until they finally achieved it.

The opinions of actors-turned-political-leaders like Arnold Schwarzenegger, who re-entered the political arena last week when he responded publicly to Trump's criticism, should be respected. Sure, he's never won an Oscar. But without question, Schwarzenegger should be an American idol: he's an immigrant who came to a country where he couldn't speak the language and then became a movie star, a world champion weight lifter and eventually the governor of the most populous state in the country.

Arnold Schwarzenegger at the California Governor's Conference on Women and Families. Joe Seer / Shutterstock.com
Arnold Schwarzenegger at the California Governor's Conference on Women and Families. Joe Seer / Shutterstock.com

Leonard DiCaprio, one of the richest and most well-liked actors, has used his fame to push an environmentally friendly agenda. Is DiCaprio really someone worth demonizing? A man that uses his money and free time to create one of the most-watched climate change documentaries in the world? A man who advocates for eating healthy and respecting the planet we live on?

Meryl Streep, the woman at the center of this entire controversy, has a long and easily traceable record worth applauding. Her and her husband founded the Silver Mountain Foundation for the Arts, an organization they've given millions of dollars to annually. They've sent about $1 million to Streep's alma matter Vassar College, and been generous with organizations like Oxfam America, New York's Meals on Wheels, the Coalition for the Homeless, and the National Women's Museum, according to The Huffington Post.

The list of successful, charitable and self-made Hollywood stars goes on and on and on — and it's worth noting that A Plus' mission of positive journalism was made possible by one. Are these people we want to make the villains of America? People from every corner of the world who chased a dream, worked incredibly hard to become who they are, and actually accomplished the pinnacle of their goals? 

Whether you cheered Streep's speech or think she went too far, you can't deny her — or any American — the right to their voice. Just as you are entitled to think we shouldn't listen to Hollywood, Hollywood has earned the right to share their voices with us, just like every hard-working American.

I, for one, will be listening. 

You can follow @Ike_Saul on Twitter here.  

Cover image courtesy The Golden Globes / HFPA Photographer.