Last week, news broke that most A-list actresses–including Meryl Streep–would be wearing black to the Golden Globes as a silent protest against serial sexual predation in Hollywood. Little did Streep know that this gesture would spark a backlash against her, culminating so far in a targeted street art campaign. Last night, a series of posters appeared all over Los Angeles, with the words “She Knew” emblazoned across her eyes. In the photo, she’s standing next to Harvey Weinstein.
The 2017 Golden Globes ceremony is where Streep famously took a stand against Donald Trump, with a powerful speech bemoaning an America where a candidate who publicly mocked a disabled person can become president. The gist of the street art seems to be that Streep should have been making a different stand at the awards earlier this year, or any time before. Whoever the artist is, this person takes it as gospel that Streep has known the extent of Harvey Weinstein’s sex crimes and remained silently complicit in them throughout her working relationship with Miramax and The Weinstein Company. This assumption is unfair and damages the #MeToo movement by pitting women against women.
The black dress backlash started with Rose McGowan. The actress and activist, one of Weinstein’s survivors and one of the women who helped bring him down, took exception to the announcement about next year’s award ceremony. She tweeted out a (since-deleted) condemnation of Meryl Streep specifically, along with other actresses more generally, calling them hypocrites for their silent protest. “YOUR SILENCE is THE problem,” she wrote. “You’ll accept a fake award breathlessly and affect no real change. I despise your hypocrisy. Maybe you should all wear Marchesa.” (That last line is a fairly devastating reference to the clothing brand created by Harvey Weinstein’s ex-wife, Georgina Chapman.)
These tweets from Monday seem to have directly inspired the street art, which went up the following day. Whoever is responsible, though, must have either intentionally missed Meryl Streep’s measured response to McGowan, or chose to ignore it.
“I am truly sorry she sees me as an adversary, because we are both, together with all the women in our business, standing in defiance of the same implacable foe,” Streep told The Huffington Post on Tuesday.
She goes on to defend herself against the charge of complicity–“I wasn’t deliberately silent. I didn’t know. I don’t tacitly approve of rape. I didn’t know. I don’t like young women being assaulted. I didn’t know this was happening”–and also to offer an explanation as to why she didn’t know:
“We did not know that women’s silence was purchased by him and his enablers. HW needed us not to know this, because our association with him bought him credibility, an ability to lure young, aspiring women into circumstances where they would be hurt. He needed me much more than I needed him and he made sure I didn’t know. Apparently he hired ex Mossad operators to protect this information from becoming public.”
It’s hard to imagine how someone could become so enraged at the thought of Hollywood hypocrisy while reading Streep’s words and conclude that she definitely was in league with Weinstein. But perhaps Rose McGowan did feel that way. She has, after all, spent many years suffering in silence, legally forbidden from speaking out against Weinstein. Although she hasn’t responded publicly to Streep’s response to her, McGowan’s tweets have signaled that she is not convinced. On Tuesday, she quote-tweeted with a laughing emoji someone else’s tweet about Streep, saying “the lady doth protest too much.”
It’s not up to anyone else, and certainly not this writer, to suggest how McGowan should or should not feel. She’s entitled to her anger, whatever form it may take. As for the court of public opinion, I humbly submit: Meryl Streep is not the villain here, and there is no reason she should have to defend herself as such. Meryl Streep was winning Oscars long before Harvey Weinstein had any power, and she remains relevant without him. She was never “the First Lady of Miramax” like Gwyneth Paltrow, who bravely spoke up to help bring Weinstein down, and there is no demand for her to explain how she was so close to the nucleus of abuse without ever knowing.
Streep did not lead the charge against Weinstein–she merely applauded it from the sidelines–but the absence of a positive action should not be conflated with the presence of a negative action. As far as we all know, Streep did nothing wrong. If any info beyond mere speculation comes to light, the court of public opinion should take it under advisement only then. For now, there are indeed enough women public figures who actually deserve the hypocrisy charge–and MEN, for fuck’s sake, have we moved on from the MEN?–that this outrage toward Streep feels woefully misdirected.