To recreate an Irish activist, a Pakistani policeman, a Russian wifebeater and his victim, it's good to have Meryl Streep on board. Also deduced at Friday night's Daily Beast event: being photographed with Hillary Clinton might just save your life.
"Senator! Look this way!" shouted a photographer on the red carpet. "She's not a Senator," someone — either Diane von Furstenberg or Tina Brown — reminded him.
"I'm honored to be called a Senator," said Clinton, smiling gracefully. (Just off the carpet, the reaction was less polite. "Can you believe that fucking moron?")
Over the course of the evening, the kickoff to the Daily Beast's Women In The World Summit, it became clear that Secretary of State Clinton's stature had already been recognized where it counted. It serves as a protection, of sorts, for the female activists she has sought out on her official trips, for whom a photograph with Hillary Clinton might keep deadly retaliation at bay. In her opening speech that night, Clinton recalled a State department official telling her on a recent trip to Guatemala that she should be photographed with a particular activist as a hedge against the activist being murdered.
Later, Mu Sochua, a member of the Cambodian parliament who is fighting sex trafficking of girls and women, gave an update on her complex legal battles against the Prime Minister amid a web of corruption. "So, Secretary Clinton," she said, "May I take another picture with you?" The activists beside her nodded in recognition.
Six global women activists, including Sochua, had gotten onstage after seeing themselves portrayed in "Seven," a series of interwoven monologues by a team of playwrights (including Anna Deavere Smith and Carol K. Mack) based on interviews with these women. Stories from Cambodia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Russia, and Afghanistan were performed by Shohreh Aghdashloo, Marcia Gay Harden, and Archie Panjabi, among others, and directed by Lion King director Julie Taymor. Streep in particular got to show her iconic versatility — she never grandstanded, per se, but you almost had to feel bad for the women who had to follow her.
Each story told of the violence and oppression these women experienced, from gang rape to being threatened for helping battered women. In each story, chaos and atrocity, gave way to "finding one's voice," or a singular political empowerment. Afterwards, six of the seven real-life women ascended the stage to embrace the actresses playing them and answer questions from Melanne Verveer (co-founder of the organization that commissioned the work and currently the first-ever U.S. Ambassador At Large For Global Women's Issues).
Inez McCormack of Northern Ireland described trying to get people to write about a housing issue she has been working on, without much luck. When news broke that Meryl Streep would be playing her, she did 15 interviews in one day. "And I got that housing campaign into twelve of them," she said. Streep cheered.
It was yet another reminder, alongside the power of Clinton's imprimatur, of fame's tangible effect when used for good. "It's validation — a bullet proof vest," said Verveer of the effect.
Said Alyse Nelson, president of Vital Voices, a group Verveer had co-founded to mentor and train women leaders around the world, "Power expands the moment it's shared." She was speaking broadly, but it was true of the choices these women had made as well.