Actress Meryl Streep presides over the Berlin International Film Festival jury, and when asked Thursday about the lack of racial diversity among its members, she responded in part by saying “we’re all Africans, really.”
That response, reported by the Associated Press, came during a news conference introducing the seven jury members and during a time of heightened scrutiny of racial diversity in the entertainment industry. Streep was asked about the #OscarsSoWhite debate and why the Berlin jury had no black members, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
“I am very committed to equality and inclusion of all genders, races, ethnicities, religions,” Streep said. “There should be inclusion and this jury is evidence that at least women are included and, in fact, dominate this jury.”
She added: “So I think the Berlinale is ahead of the game,” she added, according to AP.
Asked by an Egyptian reporter whether she understood films from the Arab world and North Africa, Streep said that while she didn’t know much about the region, ‘I’ve played a lot of different people from a lot of different cultures.’
“‘There is a core of humanity that travels right through every culture, and after all we’re all from Africa originally,’ she added. ‘Berliners, we’re all Africans, really.'”
The comment has earned her criticism online and a spot as worldwide top trending topic on Twitter. Entertainment Weekly suggested that the line may have been a nod to President John F. Kennedy’s famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech he delivered in 1963.
The Berlin International Film Festival is the first major European festival of the year, and its jury will select Golden Bear winners and films for other awards. Members include actors Lars Eidinger, Clive Owen and Alba Rohrwacher; director Malgorzata Szumowska; film critic Nick James; and photographer Brigitte Lacombe.
Streep said the panel, with not just actors but a film critic and others, will have diverse views, Reuters reported.
“We will be looking at different things in these films but we’re human beings and film is an emotional experience so … we’re going to make these decisions based on what our heads want to say,” Streep said, according to Reuters. “But we’re first attacked by the heart, so that’s an interesting process. I’m so looking forward to it.”
The festival will focus on themes related to immigration and refugees this year.