Mixed martial arts isnt everyones cup of tea, but Streeps jibe at the Golden Globes was misguided. MMA is plenty diverse: its full of foreigners and outsiders
In her heartfelt speech at the Golden Globes on Sunday night, Meryl Streep found time to mention mixed martial arts, also known as MMA. Streep took aim at Donald Trump and defended the diversity that has made Hollywood, and America, great. Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners, and if we kick them all out, youll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts which are not the arts, she said.
Its easy to see why Streep would make such an assertion: Trump has attached himself closely to MMA down the years, while the UFC president, Dana White, spoke in support of the president elect at last years Republican convention (and lashed out at Streep on Monday). Its no surprise that some view MMA as a sport full of small-minded white men who dont know their privilege kind of like politics.
But contrary to Streeps claim, MMA is a pretty diverse place its full of the foreigners and outsiders she lauded in her speech. The UFC currently has its first openly gay female champion, the Brazilian Amanda Nunes. Only last week, Nunes outclassed arguably the biggest name the sport has ever had, Ronda Rousey. (And with Rouseys loss MMAs biggest current star is Irishman Conor McGregor, another foreigner). Imagine that: a sport watched predominantly by men, having a female athlete as one of its two biggest stars, headlining shows. The UFC has recently added yet another womens division to its ranks, becoming even more inclusive, and evidencing the appetite of female viewers. Out of 10 competing divisions, the UFC has three black champions.
MMA has a global presence, too. With a multitude of organisations, the sport is growing across Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Europe and Australia which suggests the demographics of its audience is as diverse as its athletes. But this isnt just a male-dominated sport. The rapid growth of womens MMA and the meteoric rise of Rousey hold a light up to the growing female fanbase. Thats important too: research in the UK showed that 1.73 million fewer women participate in sport compared to men. The impact of a thriving womens MMA scene executed by famous female stars can only be a positive tool to drive engagement.
Compare this to Hollywoods diversity issues. The 2016 Oscars was the stage, and all-white nominations were the story for a second consecutive year. The awards were attacked for their lack of diversity, a problem that bleeds into the core of its membership. A 2012 LA Times study found that 94% of Oscar voters were white, more than three quarters were male, and the median age was 62. In her speech at the Golden Globes ceremony, Streep said: When the powerful abuse their position to bully others, we all lose. To say that the Oscars is rife with bullying would be wrong, but somewhere in the hierarchy is an abuse of power and privilege.
Of course, MMA has room for improvement. Although many of the fighters come from minority backgrounds, those at the top are mostly white men not a great state of affairs, but certainly no worse than Hollywood.
The fact that Streep doesnt consider MMA as an art form isnt the issue here even though many would argue this point. To the casual viewer, the amalgamation of martial arts in a metal cage with few rules is barbaric and brutal, but the sport has worked hard to shake off this reputation. Thanks to stringent rule changes, MMA is now legal everywhere in the US, including New York. And what the arms-length audience do not see beneath the facade is the wider impact that the sport has to offer. Streeps finger is probably not on the pulse of sports science, fitness, nutrition or the outreach community work that MMA attracts. Her motivation to mention the sport was probably not from her deep-rooted dislike of MMA, but more as a conduit leading to her overarching target Trump.
The outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment award Streep accepted at the Golden Globes is named after Cecil B DeMille a white man. In the last 20 years, its recipients have included only four females and two black winners hardly a poster for diversity. As Streep stood in the lavishly decorated room packed full of luxuries, wealth and predominantly white industry leaders, it was hard not to see the irony hypocrisy? of her misguided jibe.
For the most part, Streeps speech was accurate, and its a shame that for many the real message was ignored, choosing to focus on a throwaway comment made in the course of a passionate tirade. Few probably care whether she regards MMA as an art form, but many felt the weight of her marginalising the hardworking men and women that call MMA their profession.
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