BERLIN – 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."
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 — 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 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.
Asked by an Egyptian reporter whether she understood films from the Arab world and North Africa, Streep said while she didn't know much about the region, "I've played a lot of different people from a lot of different cultures."
"There is a core of humanity that travels right through every culture, and after all, we're all from Africa originally," she said.
"You know, we're all," she added, pausing, "Berliners, we're all Africans, really."
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."