A question has been plaguing certain sectors of Hollywood: Did Meryl Streep—who collaborated with Harvey Weinstein on projects like August: Osage County and The Iron Lady—know about Harvey Weinstein’s alleged behavior of serial sexual misconduct? Was she really left in the dark, as she and others have claimed they were, about the industry’s “open secret”? Did she continue working with Weinstein knowing at least something about the accusations that were swirling around the rumor mill from young women, failing to speak up about whatever she heard? (Since the news of the accusations broke in October, Weinstein has continuously denied that anything nonconsenual occurred between him and his accusers.)
According to street art that appeared on the streets of Los Angeles Tuesday morning, the answer is yes. The posters, which show a black-and-white photograph of a smiling Streep beside a laughing Weinstein, declare that “she knew” via a red-and-white strip over her eyes (a reference to the work of artist Barbara Kruger). The posters were put up early on Tuesday in various locations relevant to Streep’s life and work: near her Pasadena home, near the SAG-AFTRA building, and across from 20th Century Fox, the studio behind her latest film The Post.
No one has claimed credit for the posters yet, but it seems the work is a response to the back-and-forth going on in the media between Streep and Rose McGowan. McGowan—who broke a nondisclosure agreement to come forward with rape allegations against Weinstein, and who previously called out Ben Affleck, who she claims she confided in, for feigning surprise—tweeted on Saturday that Streep was a hypocrite for taking part in the protest against sexual harassment and abuse that is set to occur at the Golden Globes in January. She suggested Streep and other women who worked with Weinstein should wear Marchesa, the fashion line founded by Weinstein’s estranged wife Georgina Chapman.
“Actresses, like Meryl Streep, who happily worked for The Pig Monster, are wearing black @goldenglobes in a silent protest,” wrote McGowan in a now-deleted tweet. “YOUR SILENCE is THE problem. You’ll accept a fake award breathlessly & affect no real chance. I despise your hypocrisy. Maybe you should all wear Marchesa.”
Streep was quick to condemn Weinstein’s behavior when it first became public in October but was just as quick to clarify that “not everybody knew.” Those sentiments were echoed by other powerful women including Jennifer Lawrence, Hillary Clinton, and Judi Dench. In a statement to the Huffington Post on Monday, Streep reaffirmed that she had been kept in the dark about Weinstein’s behavior, perhaps intentionally so:
It hurt to be attacked by Rose McGowan in banner headlines this weekend, but I want to let her know I did not know about Weinstein’s crimes, not in the 90s when he attacked her, or through subsequent decades when he proceeded to attack others.
I wasn’t deliberately silent. I didn’t know. I don’t tacitly approve of rape. I didn’t know. I don’t like young women being assaulted.
I didn’t know this was happening.
Streep said that Weinstein was careful to keep his alleged abuse secret from women like her, who lent him credibility by association:
Not every actor, actress, and director who made films that HW distributed knew he abused women, or that he raped Rose in the 90s, other women before and others after, until they told us. We did not know that women’s silence was purchased by him and his enablers.
HW needed us not to know this, because our association with him bought him credibility, an ability to lure young, aspiring women into circumstances where they would be hurt.
He needed me much more than I needed him and he made sure I didn’t know. Apparently he hired ex Mossad operators to protect this information from becoming public.
Streep added that she has been trying to get in touch with McGowan, and hoped she would read her statement:
Rose assumed and broadcast something untrue about me, and I wanted to let her know the truth. Through friends who know her, I got my home phone number to her the minute I read the headlines. I sat by that phone all day yesterday and this morning, hoping to express both my deep respect for her and others’ bravery in exposing the monsters among us, and my sympathy for the untold, ongoing pain she suffers. No one can bring back what entitled bosses like Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, and HW took from the women who endured attacks on their bodies and their ability to make a living. And I hoped that she would give me a hearing. She did not, but I hope she reads this.
For now, it seems unlikely that we will ever be sure if Streep was aware of the rumors. Weinstein, who went after younger, vulnerable women, ostensibly never tried anything on the 68-year-old actress, one of the most powerful women in Hollywood. Many young women have since said that they were warned about Weinstein, but would anyone have thought to “warn” Meryl Streep? Unlike Affleck, McGowan had no direct conversations with Streep about Weinstein—do women like Streep get included in these whisper networks?
In this instance, it’s painful to watch one woman blame another for the behavior of Weinstein and his ilk. Streep concluded her statement by saying McGowan ought to see Streep as an ally rather than an adversary because they share a common enemy:
We are both, together with all the women in our business, standing in defiance of the same implacable foe: a status quo that wants so badly to return to the bad old days, the old ways where women were used, abused and refused entry into the decision-making, top levels of the industry.
One more thing
You depend on Slate for sharp, distinctive coverage of the latest developments in politics and culture. Now we need to ask for your support.
Our work is more urgent than ever and is reaching more readers—but online advertising revenues don’t fully cover our costs, and we don’t have print subscribers to help keep us afloat. So we need your help. If you think Slate’s work matters, become a Slate Plus member. You’ll get exclusive members-only content and a suite of great benefits—and you’ll help secure Slate’s future.Join Slate Plus