In her heartfelt speech at the Golden Globes on Jan. 8, Meryl Streep took the opportunity to attack President-elect Donald Trump and defended the diversity that has made Hollywood, and America, great. And she took a jab (unknowingly or not) at mixed martial arts, also known as MMA. “Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners, and if we kick them all out, you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts — which are not the arts,” Streep said.
Streep received the prestigious Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement. While we applaud her admonishment of Trump and his attitude towards immigrants, Streep also implied that mixed martial arts organizations are not inclusive of people born outside the United States.
It’s easy to see why she would think that — Trump has attached himself closely to MMA, and the UFC president, Dana White, spoke in support of the president-elect at last year’s Republican convention (and lashed out at Streep the day after the Golden Globes).
But Streep’s words ignore the historical legacy of Asian actors in Hollywood, and her “not the arts” remark flies in the face of her message of inclusiveness. MMA is rooted in Asian culture and around the world. Martial arts IS art.
Bruce Lee has been credited as the grandfather of MMA — he defined an image of a masculine Asian hero — unheard of before Lee — and became a symbol of empowerment for generations of Asian and diverse audiences. While Lee died before reaping the rewards of his breakthrough, he kicked the door open for others, like Jet Li, Jackie Chan, and Donnie Yen.
Not all actors can hone their craft with Shakespeare like Streep, and for many Asian actors, martial arts was their voice of self-expression and the only way to break into Hollywood.
Streep may not have aimed at Lee specifically, and the historic change to cinema he represented, but her vague phrasing — that all mixed martial arts are “not the arts” — diminishes Lee’s influence and significance.
And don’t forget behind-the-scenes talents like director Ang Lee. His film, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, is one of the most famous wuxia (genre of fiction concerning the adventures of martial artists in ancient China) films outside of the Chinese speaking world. It won four Oscars, including one for Best Foreign Film.
Perhaps we should extend an invitation to Ms. Streep to attend the Bruce Lee exhibit at the Wing Luke Museum here in Seattle, so she can fully understand the impact of the martial arts influence in Hollywood and how it opened doors to more diversity.