The Berlin International Film Festival became embroiled Thursday in the debate about diversity in the movie industry, with jury president Meryl Streep dismissing questions about the all-white panel by telling reporters that "we're all Africans, really."
Streep, who heads a festival film jury for the first time, said she was committed to equality and inclusion "of all genders, races, ethnicities, religions."
The seven-member jury also 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. "So I think the Berlinale is ahead of the game."
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The question of diversity was raised three times during the jury's opening news conference. It follows the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' announcement last month that it was changing its membership rules following uproar over the all-white nominee list for this year's acting Oscars.
Streep answered one of the questions by saying that Hollywood should be more inclusive in supporting female and minority actors and filmmakers.
"I do think inclusion is the name of the game," she said.
An Egyptian reporter asked her if she understands the Middle East and North Africa.
The Oscar-winning actress responded by acknowledging she didn't know much about the region, and seemed to suggest that people aren't that much different from each other.
"I don't know very much, honestly, about the Middle East, and yet I've played a lot of different people from a lot of different cultures, and 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. We're all Berliners, we're all Africans really," she said.
Some on Twitter took issue with the words "We're all Africans."
Others were more forgiving.
I've always loved Meryl Streep. I like her even more now that I know she's black. #MerylSoAfrican— @AzieDee
Aww. Leave Meryl Streep alone. She gets a pass because she's only the best actress alive. #WeAreAllAfrican Haha!— @chriswright_dj
How dare #MerylStreep state genetic and evolutionary facts which don't fit the perpetual victim narrative. An absolute outrage!— @Jonathan_Witt
Streep — who has won three Oscars and been nominated for the award a further 16 times in her career — said she was proud to head the jury that will choose the winners of the Golden Bear and various Silver Bear awards at the Berlinale, the first of the year's major European movie festivals.
'I'm going to learn by doing'
"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 said.
The festival opens Thursday with the Coen brothers' comedy Hail, Caesar! starring George Clooney and Josh Brolin. Eighteen movies are in contention for the Golden Bear prize at the festival, which is in its 66th edition this year and runs Feb. 11-21.
Festival director Dieter Kosslick says many movies at this year's event address "the search for happiness" and "migration in the world in very varying forms."
Streep's publicists did not respond Thursday to requests for additional comment.