Meryl Streep set the tongues a wagging this week with her feminist ode to Emma Thompson. We agreed with all of it, and we plan to send Emma Thompson more comfortable heels. Background: Emma Thompson won an award from the US National Board of Review. Meryl Streep presented the award with a 10-minute tribute that was quite something. And then Emma responded. Enjoy. [Wearing the baseball hat that was on the table, bearing the words “Prize Winner”]: [To offstage] What? Oh. I’m not the prize winner. [Removes hat. Audience laughs] That’s so weird! This is a very late night, and we have Spike Jonze, twice, coming out. So, I want to say to you, I have a short, sweet, kind of funny version of this tribute to Emma Thompson, and also the long, bitter, more truthful version. I would like a vote - and I’m serious. I’m happy to do the short one. I’d love to do the long one. [Audience roars.] If anybody wants to leave, go now! I guess that’s the long one. O.K.
Some of his associates reported that Walt Disney didn’t really like women. Ward Kimball, who was one of his chief animators, one of the original “Nine Old Men,” creator the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter and Jiminy Cricket, said of Disney: ‘He didn’t trust women or cats.’ And there is a piece of received wisdom that says that the most creative people are often odd, or irritating, eccentric, damaged, difficult. That along with enormous creativity come certain deficits in humanity or decency. We are familiar with this trope in our business: Mozart, Van Gogh, Tarantino, Eminem. Ezra Pound said, ‘I have not met anyone worth a damn who was not irascible.’ Well, I have: Emma Thompson. Not only is she not irascible, she’s practically a saint. There’s something so consoling about that old trope, but Emma makes you want to kill yourself, because she’s a beautiful artist, she’s a writer, she’s a thinker, she’s a living, acting conscience. Emma considers, carefully, what the fuck she is putting into the culture. Emma thinks: Is this helpful? Not will it build my brand? Not will it give me billions? Not does this express me? Me! Me! My unique and fabulous self, into all eternity in every universe for all time? Will I get a sequel out of it, or a boat? Or, a perfume contract? Ezra Pound said, ‘I’ve never met anyone worth a damn who was not irascible.’ Well, he would say that because he was supposedly a hideous anti-Semite. But, his poetry redeems his soul. Disney, who brought joy, arguably, to billions of people, was perhaps, or had some…racist proclivities. He formed and supported an anti-Semitic industry lobby. And he was certainly, on the evidence of his company’s policies, a gender bigot. Here’s a letter from 1938 stating his company’s policy to a young woman named Mary Ford, of Arkansas, who had made application to Disney for the training program in cartooning. And I’m going to read it here in Emma’s tribute because I know it will tickle our honoree, because she’s also a rabid, man eating feminist, like I am. Dear Miss Ford, Your letter of recent date has been received in the inking and painting department for reply. Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen, as that task is performed entirely by young men. For this reason, girls are not considered for the training school. The only work open to women consists of tracing the characters on clear celluloid sheets with India ink, and then filling in the tracing on the reverse side with paint, according to the directions.
When I saw the film, I could just imagine Walt Disney’s chagrin at having to cultivate P.L. Travers’ favor for 20 years that it took to secure the rights to her work. It must have killed him to encounter, in a woman, an equally disdainful and superior creature, a person dismissive of his own, considerable gifts and prodigious output and imagination. But when we sit in our relative positions of importance and mutual suspicion, and we pass judgment on each other’s work, we’re bound to make small mistakes and misconstrue each other’s motives. Which brings me to award season. Which is really ridiculous. We have made so many beautiful movies this year, and to single out one seems unfair. And yet it’s a great celebration, and I’m so proud to be here, in this group of artists. Nobody can swashbuckle a quit-witted riposte like Emma Thompson. She’s a writer, a real writer, and she has a relish for the well-chosen word. But some of the most sublime moments in Saving Mr. Banks are completely wordless. They live in the transitions where P.L. traverses from her public face to her private spaces. I’m talking about her relentlessness when she has her verbal dukes up, and then it moves to the relaxation of her brow when she retreats into the past. It’s her stillness, her attentiveness to her younger self; her perfect aliveness, her girlish alertness. These are qualities that Emma has as a person. She has real access to her own tenderness, and it’s one of the most disarming things about her. She works like a stevedore, she drinks like a… a bloke. She’s smart and crack, and she can be withering in a smack down of wits, but she leads with her heart, and she knows nothing is more funny earnestness. So now, an ode to Emma. Or, what Emma is owed. We think the Brits are brittle They think that we are mush They are more sentimental, though we do tend to gush Volcanoes of emotion, concealed beneath that lip Where we are prone to guzzle, they tip the cup and sip But when eruption rumbles from nowhere, near the brain, it’s seismic. Granite crumbles The heart more flows like rain Like lava All that feeling melts down Like Oscar gold And Emma leaves us reeling A knockout, truth be told Ladies and gentlemen, the entirely splendid Emma Thompson.
Emma Thompson: Bloody hell, Meryl. What greater love hath no woman, really, that she should don a frock and heels for her friend, write a poem. My god, I’m nauseous with gratitude! It may, in fact, be guilt, because I know I did ask. I’m so sorry. Thank you so much. It’s such a cold night, you know, it’s the only time I’ve been actively grateful for the menopause. There have been moments when I’ve been entirely comfortable. And then they pass. My dears, what an extraordinary night. Oh yes, I was in a film, I forgot! I’m surrounded by all these amazing people. Oh, Ryan Coogler, I’ll pinch you if you still feel like you’re dreaming. I’ll take you aside and pinch you. You mustn’t forget that us old people really love to be surrounded by the young. It’s so exciting. There you are, taking over. Hah hah - good luck! Um, I’m sure I had something to say, but I’ve been rather scuppered by Miss Streep’s extraordinary gift to me. Normally on occasions like this I like to complain, loudly and at length, about the dearth of roles for women, but actually this year they seem to have behaved like buses in London, where you wait for hours for the right one, and then suddenly seventeen come along at once. And so it has been. You know, Meryl and Julia and Octavia and Lea and the Kates, both Blanchett and Winslet, it’s been an extraordinary year for women’s roles. I can’t think what gave me the edge; it must have been the perm. Which was a great sacrifice; it meant no sex, of course, for months on end. And then only with animal noises accompanying it. I’d like to thank Kelly Marcel for writing someone so relentlessly unpleasant. Actually, it was an artistic chance to let out my real and true inner self. It was such bliss torturing all those young men, and I include Hanks, obviously, in that category. He’s always looked like he needed a good smack. And Alison Owen, who produced a film about a 60-year-old woman which wasn’t about her being a wife or a mother. When does that happen? Never. Extraordinary. And, of course, John Lee Hancock, who corralled a group of actors who would literally sell their internal organs to get the laugh. We would do anything to get a laugh, and he managed to make us look quite poignant in the end, which was extraordinary, I thought. The NBR, thank you so much. And thank you again, Meryl. That was an amazing experience. I’ve taken my heels off as a feminist statement really, because why do we wear them? They’re so painful. And pointless, really. You know, I really would like to urge everyone to stop it. Just stop it. Don’t wear them anymore. You just can’t walk in them, and I’m so comfortable now. But much love to you all. Thank you so very much.