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Film

Meryl Streep's 'We are all Africans' comment sparks controversy at Berlinale

Meryl Streep's comments on diversity have raised ire at the Berlin International Film Festival. The actress and jury president's remarks immediately sparked outrage on social media.

The Berlinale International Film Festival

became embroiled in a debate on diversity in the film industry following comments made by first-time jury president Meryl Streep on Thursday.

During the jury's opening press conference, questions about diversity were posed to the all-white panel numerous times. When asked by an Egyptian reporter whether she understood films from North Africa and the Middle East, Streep conceded that she is not very familiar with those regions. But, she added, "I've played a lot of different people from a lot of different cultures."

"The thing that I notice is that there is a core of humanity that travels right through every culture and, after all, we're all from Africa originally," Streep said during the press conference. "You know we're all," she added, pausing, "Berliners, we're all Africans, really," she said.

Social media storm

Streep's comments immediately sparked criticism online with many Twitter users calling her comments racially tone deaf.

Some users, however, defended the Oscar-nominated actress, saying her remarks had been taken out of context and misinterpreted.

Streep also said that she had recently seen the Jordanian film "Theeb," about a Bedouin boy's dangerous mission in the desert, and also "Timbuktu," about Islamist militants taking over the fabled Malian city.

However, her comments come on the heels of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences'

decision to alter its membership rules

following an outpouring of criticism arising from its all-white acting nominees for this year's Oscars.

Majority-female jury

Streep also said she was proud to head the

seven-member, majority-female jury

which includes German actor Lars Eidinger, British film critic Nick James, French photographer Brigitte Lacombe, British actor Clive Owen, Italian actress Alba Rohrwacher and Polish director Malgorzata Szumowska.

"This jury is evidence that at least women are included and in fact, dominate this jury, and that's an unusual situation in bodies of people who make decisions," Streep said during the conference. "So I think the Berlinale is ahead of the game."

"I have absolutely no idea how to run a jury, but I've been the boss of other enterprises, my family and various other things. So I'm going to learn by doing," she added. "We will be looking at different things in these films," she said, "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."

The film festival opens on Thursday with the Coen brothers' comedy "Hail, Caesar!" which stars George Clooney and Josh Brolin. Eighteen movies up for the Golden Bear prize at the festival, which runs from February 11-21.

rs, ss/jil (AP, Reuters)

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