Meryl Streep has spent her legendary career deepening Hollywood’s investment in women’s stories. Whether she’s playing Runway magazine’s most terrifyingly intimidating editor, Miranda Priestly, or Britain’s first female Prime Minister, she’s helped to redefine the types of characters crafted for actresses, garnering 19 Academy Award nominations — and three wins — for her notoriously nuanced, empathetic portrayals along the way.
But if Streep’s extraordinary march through these diverse narratives suggests radical industry growth, she’s also quick to point out how far we’ve still got to go to cementing real gender equality. Featured in The Female Lead: Women Who Shape Our World, a gorgeous new book profiling game-changing pioneers written by Edwina Dunn and photographed by Brigitte Lacombe, Streep gets painfully honest about the stark statistics facing aspiring barrier-breakers. Inspired by Dunn’s foundation, also called The Female Lead, the collection works to amplify the scope of women’s achievements across a wide variety of fields, from politicians to CEOs and star athletes. And Hollywood is ripe for exactly this kind of change, as Streep highlights.
“Women have a 17% influence or less in every part of the decision-making process in the entertainment industry,” she explains in a video accompanying the book’s release, underscoring the astonishing disparity in women’s access to directing, producing, or writing positions — a power gap Refinery29 is also combating through our film series, Shatterbox Anthology.
Despite the seismic shift she’s witnessed over the past 20 years — one that’s expanded the depth of female roles beyond stereotypical age boundaries — Streep is calling on her male colleagues to join women in the fight for equal representation. “In the minds of the aggrieved male population, the word feminism sometimes qualifies as something for them to be defensive about, and I feel that men should be on the side of advancing half the human race,” Streep emphasizes. “Until men think of discrimination as a problem that is their own — that’s to say, a human problem — I don’t think we’ll move forward. So that’s the challenge. Unless men are also discussing this, I don’t think anything changes. It’s not just a women’s issue—it’s an issue for everyone.”
Press play above to hear more from Streep about how to combat Hollywood’s entrenched gender imbalance — and how the industry has changed over her record-breaking career.
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