The Thing About Meryl

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The Thing About Meryl
Meryl Streep accepting the Cecile B. DeMille Award at this year’s Golden Globes

In the 2006 film The Devil Wears Prada, there is a sliver of a scene that makes a quiet but fierce impact on those who stop to look. It falls right before the infamous monologue about the color cerulean, and Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly giving Anne Hathaway’s Andrea Sachs a solid dressing down about committing to the job. In the scene, Priestly suddenly demands a run-through of looks to be included in an upcoming photo shoot and everyone scrambles to put something together to show her. Priestly, in her often seemingly nonchalant but chilling tone, utters icily, “Why is no one ready?” Here, Streep extends the enunciation of the word “ready,” so that by the time she’s reached the end, you see exactly where her disdain turned into utter frost. Yet she’s done it so quietly, and in a build-up to such an iconic scene, that perhaps very few will take notice of her masterful execution.

Streep is iconic; everyone knows this. But it is her attention to detail, her dedication to giving a multi-faceted portrayal of every single character she plays, that in an ocean full of artists and wannabes, makes her so incredibly singular. Among her 409 nominations, one in particular was for the Best Actress award at the Oscars for the 1998 film One True Thing. In it, Streep plays Kate Gulden, a classic suburban homemaker stricken with cancer, with a daughter who begins to appreciate her mother’s hidden depth throughout their time together. Streep, in an interview promoting the film, discussed her interest in the role, saying that society is “terrified” by older women. “They’re terrifying to women and they’re terrifying to men. They’re of no interest whatsoever to young men, you know, teenagers. So it’s difficult to find that niche which tells a true story about a fully dimensional woman, and at the same time is screen-worthy.” Streep understands the requirements of her trade, and its need to turn a profit. But where women of her age would be concerned about frumpy motherly roles, Streep takes less stock in her celebrity and more in her responsibility to reflect stories of every kind of woman to a society that fears what it doesn’t understand.

Before Streep received the Cecile B. DeMille Award at this year’s Golden Globes, Viola Davis introduced Streep as one whose stare was a “thief” for the sake of art, saying, “And as she continues to stare, you realize that she sees you and, that like a high-powered scanning machine, she is recording you. She is an observer and a thief. She reveals what she has stolen on that sacred place which is the screen. She makes the most heroic characters vulnerable, the most known familiar, the most despised relatable. Dame Streep. Her artistry reminds us of the impact of what it means to be an artist, which is to make us feel less alone.” And as Davis wrapped up one hell of an introduction, what she said was what most of us have probably felt after being touched by Streep’s work: “You make me feel that what I have in me — my body, my face, my age — is enough. You encapsulate that great Emile Zola quote that if you ask me as an artist what I came into this world to do, I as an artist would say, I came to live out loud.”

And while at this point, it’s been written to death, the incredible thing is that while Streep was being honored for lifetime achievement, she instead took the time to use her admittedly weak and hoarse voice to deliver a killer message. Streep took a step beyond being an actor, and as a human with both privilege and a platform, stood to reflect the truth of realities we face. She spoke without much fanfare or any air of self-importance, but the words were terribly clear: “This instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.” A message that resonates even with those of us who live thousands of miles outside of a Trump-destined America, with problems of our own.

The thing about Meryl Streep is that she may not always be the most well-styled broad on the red carpet, nor is she the youngest or most lithe, but she doesn’t have to be. She is, as Chris Pine once called her, “Meryl Effin’ Streep,” and what she has to offer is a presence we can all learn from. Her talent, while almost unearthly, is something she holds with a sense of humor and doesn’t beg acknowledging for. Her beauty comes not only from skincare and God-given cheekbones that could cut glass, but from the way she values truth and humanity, and the way that she has fought to represent all kinds of women from every end of the spectrum. Her ferocity doesn’t come with her ability to register on the decibel meter, but with her ability to steal into the quiet, cut across all the fluff, and say something that actually matters. Her level of class isn’t one that is acquired by surrounding oneself with luxury and expense, but one that is deeply rooted in integrity and unparalleled singularity.

Streep is not just the icon we all love to see transform into character after character, telling story after story. Streep is, in all honesty, the woman we all wish we could be. She takes her body, her age, and her womanhood, and gives the middle finger to every single expectation set out for women without trying to be sensational or the center of attention. She comes to work, and she knocks it out of the park, not only for herself but for everyone else coming up behind her. The thing about Meryl Streep is that she blazes trails not only in her field, but for every woman who wants to be extraordinary.

So maybe in 2017, as we inevitably ponder which resolutions are sustainable, we can decide to make fewer promises we can’t keep, and try instead to be a little bit more Meryl. Begin with a stare, set your own limits, always go with the truth, and when a red carpet is afoot, know that black is your chicest bet.


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