People Are Upset About Meryl Streep’s “I’d Rather Be A Rebel Than A Slave” T-Shirt

Streep and her Suffragette co-stars appeared in the shirts on the cover of Time Out London. They reference a quote from Emmeline Pankhurst, a leader of the U.K. suffragette movement.

1. Meryl Streep, Carey Mulligan, and Helena Bonham Carter star in Suffragette, a film about women fighting for the right to vote in the U.K., which will be released in the U.S. on Oct. 23.

Courtesy of Focus Features

2. Streep and Mulligan were recently on the cover of Time Out London wearing T-shirts that say “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave.”

3. The T-shirt is in reference to the famous quote by Emmeline Pankhurst, a leader of the U.K. suffragette movement who’s played by Streep in the upcoming movie.

4. Streep (as Pankhurst) reportedly says the quote in a scene where she’s rallying a crowd of women from her balcony.

Focus Features / Via

5. And here’s Pankhurst’s full quote:

"I'd rather be a rebel than a slave." #Suffragette

— the oranckay (@oranckay)

Sorry Meryl, but these two are the REAL #Suffragette's.

— Tyree Boyd-Pates (@TyreeBP)

btw guess who still didn’t have the vote after the suffragettes did their thing black women

— autumnaltones grimes (@andreagrimes)

9. People are taking issue with the lack of diversity in the film — and the use of the quote on the T-shirts without historical context.

I've just never seen someone smile so hard with the word "slave" on their t-shirt before.

— ShordeeDooWhop (@Nettaaaaaaaa)

Also can we stop pretending that Britain's own history with slavery doesn't make that slogan completely fucked up?

— Mikki Kendall (@Karnythia)

No matter how well-intentioned, educated, liberal, when theres only white people in the room, shit like this happens

— Ijeoma Oluo (@IjeomaOluo)

Do you know who else would rather have been rebels? Actual slaves.

— Ijeoma Oluo (@IjeomaOluo)

13. And many people on Twitter are calling for a depiction of feminist history that doesn’t leave out women of color.

Let's be intersectional instead, shall we? #Suffragette

— The Opinioness (@OpinionessWorld)

Fact that people denounce Viola Davis' historical speech yet praise Meryl Streep should tell you something about White supremacy in feminism

— Julia (@Julia_ATC)

If ur feminism isnt intersectional then ur doing it wrong. Suffragette is another movie glorifying white feminists n excluding every1 else.

— truss mi daddy (@adebsez)

1st wave feminism was racist as ever. Let it be known. It's time to acknowledge it and acknowledge intersectionality #suffragette

— lindsey (@indieLINDSEY)


18. On Tuesday, Oct. 6, Time Out London published this statement online in response to the controversy:

For a recent photoshoot to document ‘Suffragette’, the first feature film to tell the story of the violent and historic struggle of women in the UK for equal rights including the right to vote, Time Out London invited the lead actresses from ‘Suffragette’ to wear t-shirts with the slogan: ‘I’d rather be a rebel than a slave’.

This is a quote from a 1913 speech given by Emmeline Pankhurst, one of the historic British suffragettes whose fight for equality is portrayed in the movie. The original quote was intended to rouse women to stand up against oppression - it is a rallying cry, and absolutely not intended to criticise those who have no choice but to submit to oppression, or to reference the Confederacy, as some people who saw the quote and photo out of context have surmised.

Pankhurst’s full quote was: ‘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.’

Time Out published the original feature online and in print in the UK a week ago. The context of the photoshoot and the feature were absolutely clear to readers who read the piece. It has been read by at least half a million people in the UK and we have received no complaints.

Time Out London did not immediately reply to BuzzFeed’s request for a comment. When reached, Focus Features had no comment.

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