Somewhere Scarlett Johansson might be wondering, “The people aren’t having what exactly? Not having enough time to congratulate Meryl on her brave acting choice? Help me out here.” But she’s probably in a pretty small minority of people. Because in general, Meryl Streep’s choice to play a Latina character has some people scratching their heads and wondering why.
Meryl is currently starring in The Laundromat, a movie about the Panama Papers, the set of documents detailing offshore tax evasion and fraud that were leaked in 2015 by an anonymous source. Meryl plays a character named Ellen Martin, who – based on the trailer for The Laundromat – looks like she runs a really wild quilting group called The Stitchy Bitches.
The Laundromat first premiered at the Venice International Film Festival earlier this month, then premiered again at the Toronto International Film Festival on Monday. And after each premiere, a few people wrote about a second character Meryl plays. Meryl reportedly shows up later in the film in cartoonish prosthetics and a vaguely “latin” accent. Richard Lawson of Vanity Fair wrote about Meryl’s surprise character:
“Which doesn’t mean Streep leaves the film. No: in fact, she shows up as a different character, wearing prosthetics and putting on a thick pan-Latin accent. This is a bizarre and rather galling unforced error, especially in an era of heightened consciousness about representation and appropriation. It’s not a huge role, but any one scene of Streep essentially playing Agador Spartacus’s mom is a scene too many.”
Agador Spartacus of course is the Guatemalan housekeeper played by Hank Azaria in The Birdcage. But at least Hank Azaria has vaguely Spanish roots. Meryl looks like the type to tan under the lighting at Pottery Barn (I can relate). BuzzFeed senior film critic Adam B. Vary also gave his take on it:
Meryl Streep has two roles in THE LAUNDROMAT, one as a Panamanian woman, w/ hip pads, a fake nose, and dark bronzer. There is a specific, dramatic reason that becomes clear by the end. Still, it’s not great — as a choice and as a performance. #TIFF19 https://t.co/YwrY9QIUe2
— Adam B. Vary (@adambvary) September 10, 2019
So it sounds like there’s a plot-driven reason for why Meryl slipped into Latinface, but it’s still not a well-received one.
Gary Oldman has a questionable French accent. Meryl Streep does blackface. Steven Soderbergh rips off Adam McKay… 'THE LAUNDROMAT' is bizarre, to say the least: https://t.co/HKUCGPY9nr #TheLaundromat #Venezia76
— The Film Bite (@thefilmbitecom) September 10, 2019
THE LAUNDROMAT: Like The Informant mixed with The Big Short but not as good as either of them. Great cast but in a story that drags and doesn't have much to say. Incredibly weird decision to have Meryl Streep play a 2nd character who is latina and nearly a caricature #TIFF19
— Rafael Motamayor @ TIFF (@RafaelMotamayor) September 9, 2019
Great to see every single question at the Q&A be about how great Meryl Streep is as a person (she is) yet nothing on her playing a latina character including a nose prosthetic.
— Rafael Motamayor @ TIFF (@RafaelMotamayor) September 10, 2019
This isn’t the first time Meryl has slipped into a cringey culture costume to play a character. She played a rabbi in the HBO miniseries Angels in America, but that seems downright PC compared to Meryl in hip pads and dark bronzer.
There’s no pictures of Meryl’s bizarre Latina character yet, but I’m sure we’ll all grimace together when The Laundromat drops on Netflix on September 27th. I’m sure on that day, people will rush to Netflix like they did on the day Chris Pine’s penis made an appearance in Outlaw King.
But even without seeing The Laundromat, Meryl’s choice seems like a risky one, because no matter the context, it seems like one made in kind of poor taste. Let’s face it: it’s never going to be well-received if you play a character that makes people wonder when you started taking acting lessons from Sweet Dee Reynolds.
Here’s more of Meryl at the TIFF premiere of The Laundromat on Monday.