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Meryl Streep plays a Panamanian secretary in last Soderbergh's movie and the critics are harsh.
Meryl Streep plays a Panamanian secretary in last Soderbergh's movie and the critics are harsh.

What's wrong with Meryl Streep’s Panamanian role?

The Oscar-winner actress plays three different characters in ‘The Laundromat’, Steven Soderbergh’s movie about the Panama Papers scandal. And there are some…

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(Warning: Spoiler)

I remember when I was at the Drama Book Store of New York many years ago. I got surprised by the number of CDs for actors to practice many international accents.

In fact, the Latino actor Lin-Manuel Miranda is now the co-owner of the centenarian book store.

Since “The Laundromat”, the new Soderbergh’s satirical movie about the international tax avoidance case called Panama Papers, was released its director and main actress have been hardly criticized.

Streep incarnates one Panamanian secretary in Mossack Fonseca’s law firm, central in the scandal. 

The so-called political correctness, from who claims to defend diversity and civil rights but judge everyone, reminds us of the McCarthyism.

But this isn’t the only character she plays…

The first one is Ellen Martin, a woman from Michigan who was affected by Panama Papers and she must pursue a Jünger Mossacks and Ramón Fonseca’s figurehead, played by the actors Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas.

Secondly –a required spoiler-, she performs herself at the end of the movie and discloses her true identity. Streep recites the manifesto of John Doe, the anonymous whistleblower who leaked the documents, while she walks onto the film set and begins to pull off her disguise.

And the third cameo –though it would be the second one in order of appearance- is her polemic role as a Panamanian administrative officer with a strong Spanish accent, a darker skin, and a wide nose, so perfectly portrayed that it is difficult to recognize Meryl Streep until the director's wink on the final scene, when she embodies an icon.

A new witch hunt?

There are some critical voices who refer to her role as a woman from Panama as a lack of sensibility. Others state that it is a bad joke from Soderbergh or something close to a Hollywood “whitewashing”

We are living a period when “freedom” is becoming narrower. On one hand, Trump’s government condemns diversity and push people to racism and xenophobia.

On the other, the so-called political correctness, from who claims to defend diversity and civil rights but judge everyone, reminds us of McCarthyism. A second witch hunt what damages the artists and art itself, which should be free and whose function is to help us expand our perspective.

More diversity in movies

A few days ago, a documentary was released at the Lumière Festival in Lyon (France) that criticized Hollywood's “whitewashing” where white actors perform Asian characters in movies.

It is the extent of what is called “blackface” -or “yellowface”- that not only harms the non-white performers’ careers but caricatures them. And we totally agree with it.

The Latino actors in the cinema industry are over 5%. We have also written about stereotypes they usually play: the “Narco”, the “gardener”, the “salsa teacher” who is in love with the white and handsome hero in the movie, or the “stripper” who barely speaks English.

We should celebrate that an iconic actress such as Meryl Streep chose to immerse herself in other languages and cultures.

There is a bunch of good actors from almost every nationality in the U.S. and movies should tell a story based on diversity where they could perform all kinds of characters.

It is not about Latinos playing Latinos but who can play an office manager from Milwaukee or a casino owner in Las Vegas; or a single mother from Brasil whose children don’t speak Portuguese because they were born in the U.S.

However, we should also celebrate that an acclaimed actress such as Meryl Streep chose to immerse herself in other languages and cultures. She should be able to perform a Panamanian person, as she has done a dozen times, and we oughtn’t see it as invasive.

If cinema works for anything, and not only for evasion, it is for building empathy and approaching one another in the paradox of the digital world, where the more connected we are, the more strange we become.

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