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Meryl Streep on diversity: "We're all Africans really"

BERLIN -- The Berlin International Film Festival became embroiled in the debate about diversity in the movie industry Thursday, with jury president Meryl Streep dismissing questions about the all-white panel by telling reporters that "we're all Africans really."

Streep, who heads a festival film jury for the first time, said she was committed to equality and inclusion "of all genders, races, ethnicities, religions." The seven-member jury will choose the winners of the Golden Bear and various Silver Bear awards at the first of the year's major European movie festivals.

"This jury is evidence that at least women are included and in fact dominate this jury, and that's an unusual situation in bodies of people who make decisions," Streep said. "So I think the Berlinale is ahead of the game."

Asked by an Egyptian reporter whether she understood films from the Arab world and North Africa, Streep said that while she didn't know much about the region, "I've played a lot of different people from a lot of different cultures."

"There is a core of humanity that travels right through every culture, and after all we're all from Africa originally," she added. "Berliners, we're all Africans really."

People on Twitter reacted in shock, with one commenter saying "Meryl Streep has never been luckier that she's not on Twitter." The actress' name was trending on Twitter on Thursday.

The festival jury's other members are German actor Lars Eidinger, British film critic Nick James, French photographer Brigitte Lacombe, British actor Clive Owen, Italian actress Alba Rohrwacher and Polish director Malgorzata Szumowska.

The festival opens Thursday with the Coen brothers' comedy "Hail, Caesar!" starring George Clooney and Josh Brolin.

Eighteen movies are in contention for the Golden Bear prize at the festival, which is in its 66th edition this year and runs Feb. 11-21.

Festival director Dieter Kosslick said recently that many movies at this year's event address "the search for happiness" and "migration in the world in very varying forms."