Friday, January 13, 2017

Famous Speech Friday: Meryl Streep's Golden Globes speech

In the world of Hollywood stars, few are as beloved as three-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep, who took home a lifetime achievement award from the Hollywood Foreign Press at the Golden Globe awards this week...and walked away with "most stunning speech" in the process.

She took out notes at the beginning, but clearly went without them or the teleprompter for much of this speech. Streep began by riffing on Hugh Laurie's remark that Hollywood...foreign...and press were all vilified by the incoming U.S. president, and then showed her attention to detail about people in describing what Hollywood really is:
But who are we, and what is Hollywood anyway? It’s just a bunch of people from other places. I was born and raised and educated in the public schools of New Jersey. Viola was born in a sharecropper’s cabin in South Carolina, came up in Central Falls, Rhode Island; Sarah Paulson was born in Florida, raised by a single mom in Brooklyn. Sarah Jessica Parker was one of seven or eight kids in Ohio. Amy Adams was born in Vicenza, Italy. And Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem. Where are their birth certificates? And the beautiful Ruth Negga was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, raised in London — no, in Ireland I do believe, and she’s here nominated for playing a girl in small-town Virginia.
After talking about the year's brilliant performances by her colleagues, Streep went after the president-elect, without mentioning him by name:
But there was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good; there was nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh, and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter. Someone he outranked in privilege, power and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it, and I still can’t get it out of my head, because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life. And 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 kinda gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others we all lose.
The speech--one of the few for which there was pin-drop silence in the hall on a night when attendees talk right through the award acceptances--resonated beyond the audience in front of Streep, drawing irate tweets from the president-elect. Other observers noted that she aptly targeted the critique most meaningful to him (performance). But there's no question about the speech's impact and reach. What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • It wasn't about her: Streep didn't waste much time talking about herself in this speech, and devoted it to others. Over and over, her fellow actors remarked on that anomaly in an acceptance speech as they reacted later. 
  • This was one helluva industry awards banquet speech: Take away the glitz and bling, and these awards ceremonies are not much different from your industry convention's awards banquest. Streep addressed the issues of the industry and the event sponsors--the press that covers Hollywood--as any smart industry award winner might do.
  • She captured the audience inside and outside the hall: Streep didn't just name-check her fellow actors, but shared information specific to the individuals she saluted, and captured the concerns of the audience in the hall with her words. But she also attracted the attention of the wider audience, from the president-elect to those regular citizens watching at home. That belies a thoughtful approach, one focused on the detail.
  • She pulled her punches: The subtle aspects of this speech are well worth a study, making it all the more powerful. She didn't need to say "the new president is treating the job like a Hollywood performance." Instead, she just began by describing it as a performance, and let the audience figure out her subject. She didn't have to raise her voice. And touches like that made her audience listen, closely.
I have a rant building up about those who call most women's speeches "emotional," and this was such a one. But in fact, Streep's delivery was heartfelt, measured, calm, and powerful--all better adjectives than "emotional" for this stunner of a speech.

You can read the full transcript of the speech here, and watch it below.

Meryl Streep Receives the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 2017 Golden Globes

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