Barbra Streisand Honors the Jews Who Created the Film Industry in Moving Acceptance Speech – Kveller
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Barbra Streisand Honors the Jews Who Created the Film Industry in Moving Acceptance Speech

"They were all fleeing the prejudice they faced in Eastern Europe simply because of their religion," she told the crowd at the SAG awards.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: Barbra Streisand accepts the SAG Lifetime Achievement Award onstage during the 30th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at Shrine Auditorium and Expo Hall on February 24, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.

via Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

This weekend, SAG-AFTRA finally awarded Barbra Streisand a well-deserved Life Achievement award at the 30th SAG awards, and the multi-talented director, actor and writer gave a super sharp and wonderful speech in which she paid tribute to the Jewish founders of the film industry.

In the speech, Babs, who took the stage to the sound of her hit song “The Way We Were,” talked about dreaming of being an actress while growing up in her Jewish home in Brooklyn, eating coffee ice cream (you can make her coffee ice cream, by the way) and reading magazines. She mentioned how going to the movies at Loew’s Kings theater, next to her high school in Brooklyn, and watching “Guys and Dolls” made her fall in love with movies — with their dreamy reality and their sets, so different from the plastic-covered furniture in her mother’s home, and with her first crush, Marlon Brando. “Everything was beautiful up on the screen,” she recalled.

Much of that beauty was thanks to the “men who built this industry,” Babs recounted, who, like her, were running away from an unpleasant reality. “They were all fleeing the prejudice they faced in Eastern Europe simply because of the religion,” she said, naming men like Shmuel Geldfish who changed his name to Samuel Goldwyn, Lazar Meir who became Louis B. Mayer  — and who together with Marcus Loew, a son of Jewish immigrants and the man who founded that theater Babs first watched movies in — co-founded MGM Studios. She also mentioned the four Wonskolaser brothers who founded Warner Brothers. She may not have used the word Jewish, but one can hope it was clear to everyone in the room that these were Jewish men escaping the tides of rising antisemitism, an ancient hatred whose power we still feel today.

“They were dreamers, too, like all of us tonight,” she told the crowd. “And now I dream of a world where such prejudice is a thing of the past.”

Amen to that, Barbra.

Streisand, who first joined SAG-AFTRA over six decades ago, also regaled the audience by joking about how this was the best award she’s ever gotten because “you don’t have to sit there and squirm” in the uncertainty of who will win and then smile when someone else gets the award. She talked about her mother told her “you better learn how to type” because she just didn’t look like the kind of women you saw in films.

She spoke about how the men she worked with in “Funny Girl” — Jewish immigrant William Wyler, whose German-born mother got him a job at Universal through her distant cousin, Carl Laemmle, the founder of the studios, and cinematographer Harry Stradling — were ahead of their time, because they “had no problem with a young woman who had opinions,” and let her opine about how things should be done and actually listened to her. She talked about how she never went to college, but that being in movies was the greatest education she got.

She ended her speech by talking about the importance of telling the truth (she founded the UCLA Barbra Streisand Center in 2021, which is dedicated to studying the pursuit of truth in the public sphere and climate change) and talked about how she loved watching the 2022 film “Une Belle Course,” or “Driving Madeleine,” starring Line Renaud, who is 92 (“there’s still hope for us, girls” Streisand announced to fellow older women in the crowd) and Jewish actor Danny Boon, because it made her appreciate the beauty and power of truth, and of how “you can make a profound connection with someone simply by telling the truth” about your life experience. She then thanked all those in the crowd for “giving me so much joy just watching you all on the screen,” because of course, Babs is a mensch.

The crowd was visibly moved when the actress took the stage, many of them, including Jennifer Anniston and Anne Hathaway, already weeping. Everyone was loving on her with her gloves and sparkles and gold and stylish hat. She got standing ovations and a roomful of admiring gazes, from Billie Eilish to Pedro Pascal and Quinta Brunson. She even gave Bradley Cooper a smooch and whispered a compliment to him (maybe she dug “Maestro”).

There’s no one to unite us quite like Barbra Streisand.

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