Helen Mirren’s fiery feminism was on display Thursday evening when the Oscar-winning actress was asked during a keynote conversation in Toronto what she was looking forward to besides the “terrible situation” of the current war between Israel and Hamas.
“Gosh, that’s an extremely difficult question, because you don’t want to be naive and stupid. Of course you hope for peace,” Mirren told the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center during an appearance at the Spirit of Hope Benefit 2023.
She then added, “Honestly, at the end of the day, I’m going to say that I look forward to women taking a stronger place in life. Because I think this can be our hope for the future.”
Mirren was praised by the human rights organization as a steadfast ally in the fight against anti-Semitism after receiving the 2023 Humanitarian Award. Mirren’s informal conversation was overshadowed by events in the Middle East after Israel declared war on the terrorist organization Hamas in Gaza after October 7. surprise attack on southern Israel.
When asked during the keynote what scares her today, Mirren replied without pause: “Oh, the seventh of October. That scares me the most, and whatever it is in humanity that allows people to do this, whatever it is that drives them to commit these acts, whatever brainwashing, whatever it is that puts people’s minds on who can direct actions.”
Pointing to other serious human atrocities in history, she referenced the Holocaust during World War II and America’s traumatic history of lynching African-American men to terrorize their communities.
“Lynchings were common. And I recently saw postcards from an audience at a lynching, sending them to each other, kind of like, “What fun we had at the lynching last night.” What is it in us, people? Is it fundamental for us? It is so much part of our nature, just like everything good we have,” Mirren also wondered during the gala in Toronto.
Although Mirren stayed away from current Israeli politics in the aftermath of the war with Hamas, she delved deep into the country’s history after her starring role in Guy Nattiv’s Goudain which she plays Golda Meir, Israel’s prime minister during the tense 1973 Yom Kippur War.
When asked what prompted her to play the Israeli leader at a time when the country was facing possible destruction, Mirren recalled that in her youth she first saw in Golda Meir a rare woman leading a country.
“When Golda came to power in Israel, it was a monumental moment for me personally. Because I had never seen a female prime minister before, let alone a prime minister of a country as complex and important and with such challenges as Israel has always had. So that, just from a purely feminist point of view, was really important to me,” she recalls.
Mirren also addressed the controversy over a non-Jew like her being cast to play the Israeli leader. “It’s a legitimate discussion. The whole idea of casting has really been blown out of the water lately, and I applaud that. It’s absolutely right,” she said.
At the same time, Mirren said that she would not have taken the role of Golda Meir if the biopic itself had not been directed by an Israeli in Nattiv. She added, “Without that authentic voice, I just wouldn’t have played (the role) with anyone else.”