Critics denounced the use of the word slave as insensitive and tone-deaf, particularly given the fact that the suffragette movement historically excluded women of color.
Here’s the full statement:
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.
While the historical context of the quote is certainly important to note, it doesn't change the fact that Pankhurst's words mean something different in our current socio-political context -- amid a year full of public discussion about intersectionality -- than they did back in the day.
And sure, we get that the word "slave" doesn't hold quite the same historical weight in the U.K. as it does in the U.S. (although the U.K.'s colonial history isn't too pleasant, either!) but Time Out is an international brand with a global online readership, and Meryl Streep is an American actress with a huge American fan base. Streep, at least, should know how these slogans might read to her American fans, particularly those whose ancestors didn't have the choice to "be rebels" because they were trapped for centuries in a system of systematic persecution and enslavement.
Tl;dr: "Your American outrage is invalid!" is not exactly an adequate response here.