In January 2014 Anti-slavery.org‘s Aidan McQuade struck a blow for worldwide idiocy when he slammed director David O. Russell for describing Jennifer Lawrence‘s contractual obligations to the endless Hunger Games franchise as a form of slavery, “Talk about 12 years of slavery, that’s what the franchise is,” Russell told the Daily News on 1.10.14. McQuade complained that Russell’s comparison was “glib” and insensitive. Russell “apologized” but the whole brouhaha was headache-inducing.
What McQuade was saying, in fact, was that the word “slave” can never be used as a metaphor or a figure of speech, that it can only be used if the speaker is referring to actual slavery as it existed in the United States in the 19th century and as it exists today in cultures around the world or, in another context, back to the ancient Egyptians and Romans using Hebrews as slave laborers. The point is that “slave”, which basically alludes to economic subjugation, must be used in a literal or historical context. And that means somebody has to go after the Rolling Stones.
In any event two more knee-jerkers — educator/activist DeRay McKesson and writer-editor Jemilah Lemieux — have stepped into the breach to carry on McQuade’s tradition. Two days ago a Guardian article noted objections from McKesson and Lemieux to a slogan — “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave” — on a promotional T-shirt recently worn by Meryl Streep, Carey Mulligan, Romola Garai and Anne-Marie Duff to promote Sarah Gavron‘s Suffragette, which will open the BFI London Film Festival on Wednesday, 10.7.
“White women have said a lot of terrible things over the course of history, [but that] doesn’t mean you wear it on a shirt,” Lemieux tweeted. “Meryl Streep has to know better. And if not, her publicist should have,” tweeted McKesson.
The “slave” line is spoken by Streep’s Emmeline Pankhurst character in the film. It’s from a speech in which she addresses the women’s suffrage movement and women’s social and economic subjugation by men in the early 20th Century.
Full quote: “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 Russell kerfuffle reminded me last year not to ever allude to feelings I have about being a slave to my column. I’ve been writing Hollywood Elsewhere for eleven years now, and for previous incarnations starting in October ’98 — over 15 years a slave. Whoops!