Meryl Streep portrait

Meryl Streep: An Observer and a Thief

The Golden Globes 2017 with its copious amounts of booze (served to its attendees) and talking points (caused by said attendees) has been causing quite the ruckus since it aired on Sunday (and understandably so). Personages in the entertainment industry vis-à-vis their captivating work on-screen, form a special bond with us – the audience. A couple of years ago when social media was not as omnipresent, our exposure to these “stars” was limited – movie stars were seen once a year on cinema and TV stars were seen once a week for a couple of months on the telly. The scarcity of their appearance made us crave for more of their dosage thus, on the rare occasions we could get a glimpse of them in the real-world minus the facade of their screen personas, we were enraptured by their actions (this would explain why gossip magazines have become so popular as well as my constant need to scroll to the “Personal Life” section of every celebrity’s Wikipedia page). I wouldn’t know about today’s “Snapchat generation” who share a different sort of equation with today’s celebs – being in the know of their everyday – but I for one, witnessed the non-Snapchat years and so heavily consummate my dosage of celebrity through award shows and talk shows i.e. when celebrities descend on the real-world.

There were many pot-boiler moments (those plunging necklines and fierce beard games) but there was also an underlying theme: of the celebration of artistry and freedom of expression, that led to one of the main talking points that night. This theme emanated through the night in winners’ acceptance speeches, Jimmy Fallon’s monologue and the award presenters’ mini speeches. It was even salient in some actors’ wardrobes and their candid moments off-stage (when they were caught listening earnestly to their peers’ speeches on-stage – mostly Christian Slater [he seems like a very good listener]). The primary purpose of the entertainment industry is to provide said entertainment (instead of propagating propaganda or brainwashing as is rampant in many subdued parts of the world). Entertainment, although meant to serve a purpose in the world, is also a medium of expression of wondrous, uninhibited souls known as artists. These individuals choose to imitate, distort or elongate life so that a wide range of people (their audience and spectators) can live vicariously through them.

Viola Davis, in one of the most heartfelt moments of the night, quoted the inimitable Emile Zola, “if you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you: I am here to live out loud,” when describing the iridescent star, Meryl Streep. Davis referred to her as an “observer and a thief” who hid behind a steely exterior but she saw through everyone and every setting so that she could “steal” everyone’s vulnerable facets in order to imbue them into one of the many characters she portrays on-screen. Streep nodded gently as Davis chiseled away at the dexterity that goes into her craft. Her speech outlined the work of a true artist that is Streep. Then, what transpired in Streep’s resulting acceptance speech (for the Cecil B. DeMille Award) left us all in awe.

Dame Streep, as Davis called her, issued a vulnerable side of herself on stage that evening. She took notes from Davis’ speech prior, by appreciating the tag of an artist, saying that she was proud to be in the arts community and concerned that her body of work was in jeopardy because of the current state of affairs in America. As she stood on stage in front of the glitterati, Streep brought to attention the grim future that the world was headed towards (with T-minus two weeks till the US Presidential inauguration). Trump was a prescient butt of jokes that was downplayed by the host Fallon but subtly infused in some awardees’ speeches. Hugh Laurie, with a clever use of wordplay derived from “Hollywood Foreign Press,” described the importance of all three segments (Hollywood, foreigners and the press) in present society and you could see watching him, with a piercing stare, was Dame Streep. She then went on to use his clever words in her own speech to say that Hollywood, foreigners and the press were the three vilified throngs of society at the time, and she feared that if all three were wiped out then the greatest loser in the world will be the art form.

It is easy to see that Streep is truly a sensational actress but so many other off-beat talents may also be considered cut from the same cloth. Donald Glover, for his fantastic portrayal in the slice-of-life dramedy, Atlanta thanked his inspiration – the quaint city and its vibrant people – for giving him the material to project matters on-screen that which resonated with people. People need to feel and be moved by things when they are watching cinema or immersing themselves in art. I remember going to an art exhibition in the eighth grade as part of a school trip and being the studious kid that I was, I was taking notes about each artists’ work, anticipating the essay we would have to eventually conjure up at some point in the school year, when a particular painting truly struck me, but its “Untitled” title prodded me to ask the art teacher, what the painting meant. The irate teacher replied, looking down at my notebook with displeasure, “it is whatever you want it to be or rather, it means whatever you think it means, don’t ask me again.” He wanted us to awaken ourselves to art and interpret them on our own. The teacher may have only seen the outing as an easier way to get out of being locked in a suffocating room with adolescent teens (without any real intention of teaching us or testing us on anything) but, what he said in his disgruntled state still resonates with me today. I find meaning in everything I watch and see today. I certainly “saw” through Meryl Streep’s speech and all of the other speeches that night.

Emma Stone graciously brought notice to those creative souls (mirroring her role in the heavily decorated La-La-Land) who brave their inner dreams to achieve whatever they set out to, despite the rejection, the meandering support. Donald Glover went so far as to liken everyone in the room to magicians, because they were doing things that even his optimistic father could not fathom and Tracee Ellis Ross brought home the importance of being as different, as presumably unconventional as she was – a coloured woman in her 40s, in her biggest acting gig, nominated for the first time for a Golden Globe, and still managing to win.

Going back to being accepted for whoever we are in the artistic world, Streep’s words become even clearer and the importance of art becomes ever more pressing. Entertainment can seem silly at times, but going back to Tom Hiddleston’s words, he mentions that being able to provide that simple merriment to all walks of people – such as the real people doing the real heavy-lifting in the world (such as the Médecins sans Frontières doctors serving South Sudan) was deeply satisfying. One of my favorite films of the last couple of years, Monuments Men, was a story about a group of museum curators and philanthropists who risked their lives in war-torn Europe during WWII to rescue the works of art that make mankind’s achievements seem truly remarkable. I’ll say it again, mankind is capable of many wonders – there is magnificence in our creativity and we should never be afraid to express it no matter whatever the current state of affairs.

Sadia Sarwar is an upcoming author with plenty of opinions and rarefied tastes. Follow her on @sadiamhsarwar

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