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Steven Soderbergh’s upcoming Netflix film The Laundromat is getting buzz after its screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, but one character is also getting called out.
In the film, which is a surreal take on the 2015 Panama Papers scandal, Meryl Streep plays a widow who ventures to Panama to investigate insurance fraud after her husband’s death. But, according to some reviews, Streep also plays a second role in which she dons a prosthetic nose and darker skin and employs an accent to play a law firm worker in Panama. Critic Rafael Motamayor, reporting from TIFF, called it “nearly a caricature.”
Great to see every single question at the Q&A be about how great Meryl Streep is as a person (she is) yet nothing on her playing a latina character including a nose prosthetic.— Rafael Motamayor @ TIFF (@RafaelMotamayor) September 10, 2019
In a review from Sept. 1, after it premiered at the Venice Film Festival, Vanity Fair‘s Richard Lawson called it a “bizarre and rather galling unforced error, especially in an era of heightened consciousness about representation and appropriation.” He adds that it’s “not a huge role, but any one scene of Streep essentially playing Agador Spartacus’s mom is a scene too many,” referencing Hank Azaria’s character from The Birdcage.
In a review for World of Reel, Jordan Ruimy notes that Streep “also puts on prosthetic nose and a thick pan-Latin accent to play another role, that of the Havana secretary working with Mossack and Fonseca that may have been responsible for the leak.”
Elsewhere, the cameo was called “uncomfortable” and Streep was accused of wearing blackface.
It’s... uncomfortable.— matt rorabeck @ #TIFF19 (@mattrorabeck) September 10, 2019
according reports meryl streep doesn’t do blackface but DOES put on prosthetics to do a racial caricature of central american women which is absolutely vile and racist. call it what is.— antonio (@guxpito) September 1, 2019
While there were reportedly no questions about this choice brought up during the TIFF Q&A, Soderbergh and Streep might have to address it when it sees wider theatrical release on Sept. 27, and a Netflix release on Oct. 18. Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Streep focused more on how the press is “under siege” and how the film is about the journalists who risked their lives to report on and expose corruption.
Audra Schroeder is the Daily Dot’s senior entertainment writer, and she focuses on streaming, comedy, and music. Her work has previously appeared in the Austin Chronicle, the Dallas Observer, NPR, ESPN, Bitch, and the Village Voice. She is based in Austin, Texas.