Meryl Streep and her “Suffragette” costars are facing harsh backlash for wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the controversial slogan, “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave,” on the cover of Time Out London magazine.
The slogan was taken from a 1913 speech by Emmeline Pankhurst, a British women’s rights activist whom Streep portrays in the film.
The full passage reads: “I know that women, once convinced that they are doing what is right, that their rebellion is just, will go on, no matter what the difficulties, no matter what the dangers, so long as there is a woman alive to hold up the flag of rebellion. I would rather be a rebel than a slave.”
The phrase may have been a powerful line at the time for women, but many people feel the quote implies racial insensitivity, belittles the suffering of slaves in America and carries connotations of slavery and the Confederate rebellion in American history.
Critics voiced their outrage on Twitter:
Meryl Streep has to know better. And if not, her publicist should have.
— deray (@deray) October 5, 2015
— Kathy Khang 강경아 is still here (@mskathykhang) October 6, 2015
— candice (@cgre) October 5, 2015
— TyreeBP (@TyreeBP) October 5, 2015
— Saeed Jones (@theferocity) October 5, 2015
White women have said a lot of terrible things over the course of history, doesn't mean you wear it on a shirt. https://t.co/Y02pmmnJCL
— Jamilah Lemieux (@JamilahLemieux) October 5, 2015
— Whitney 🌹 (@cambridgehyphen) October 6, 2015
Time Out London defended the controversial T-shirts on Tuesday, and said that critics are simply taking the quote out of context.
“This is a quote from a 1913 speech given by Emmeline Pankhurst, one of the historic British suffragettes whose fight for equality is portrayed in the movie,” the statement read.
“The original quote was intended to rouse women to stand up against oppression — it is a rallying cry, and absolutely not intended to criticize those who have no choice but to submit to oppression, or to reference the Confederacy, as some people who saw the quote and photo out of context have surmised.”
Streep came under fire last month when she declined to identify herself as a feminist.
“I am a humanist, I am for nice easy balance,” Streep told Time Out while promoting “Suffragette.”
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