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Suffragette stars Meryl Streep and Carey Mulligan in 'slave' T-shirts row

Published 06/10/2015

Carey Mulligan (left) and Meryl Streep star in the political period drama Suffragette
Carey Mulligan (left) and Meryl Streep star in the political period drama Suffragette

Promotional T-shirts worn by Suffragette actresses Meryl Streep and her co-stars have prompted an online backlash for comparing women's oppression with slavery.

The photoshoot for Time Out magazine shows glamorous actresses Streep, Carey Mulligan, Romola Garai and Anne-Marie Duff wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the quote "I'd rather be a rebel than a slave" ahead of the film's release later this month.

Many critics have complained that the phrase, taken from an impassioned Emmeline Pankhurst speech from 1913 demanding votes for women, ignores the historical context of the term "slave" and evokes connotations of Confederacy.

The photoshoot is also considered problematic for positioning of four white, privileged women in the T -shirts.

The PR stunt has also once again raised the uneasy history between feminism and racism and the lack of internationality during the suffragette movement.

Ayesha Fakie tweeted: "So many things wrong with 'I'd rather be a rebel than a slave' for an American movie in current millennium .#confederacy"

Shelby Knox said: "A white woman, ANY white woman, wearing a shirt that says 'I'd rather be a rebel than a slave' doesn't get feminism. She doesn't get history."

Others have lambasted the actresses for suggesting that slavery is a choice.

Twitter user Femmeminem added: "I'd rather be a rebel than a slave" also seems to suggest that there is ultimately a choice and an acceptance towards enslavement."

Ljeoma Oluo said: "Do you know who else would rather have been rebels? Actual slaves."

Time Out defended the photoshoot, insisting the context of it was "absolutely clear".

A statement read: " 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.

"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."

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