Actress Meryl Streep delivers feminist speech against Walt Disney at the National Board of Review Awards in New York.

Actress Meryl Streep delivers a feminist speech against Walt Disney at the National Board of Review Awards in New York. Photo: Reuters

Hollywood icon Meryl Streep has slammed Walt Disney as a "gender bigot" while lavishing praise on fellow "rabid, man-eating feminist" Emma Thompson, who portrays Mary Poppins creator P.L. Travers in the new Disney film Saving Mr Banks.

Streep made the comments during a speech at the National Board of Review awards gala in New York, where Thompson was awarded best actress.

Streep called Thompson a "beautiful artist" and “practically a saint”.

P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), left; Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), right, in?Disney's <i>Saving Mr. Banks</i>.

Ph: Fran?ois Duhamel

?Disney Enterprises, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
 Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson in Saving Mr Banks

'It must have killed him,' says Streep of P.L. Travers' (Emma Thompson) strong hand in Walt Disney's Mary Poppins film.

"Emma considers, carefully, what the f--- she is putting into the culture.

"Emma thinks: 'Is this helpful?' Not, 'Will it build my brand?' Not, 'Will it give me billions?' Not, 'Does this express me? Me! Me! My unique and fabulous self, into all eternity in every universe for all time? Will I get a sequel out of it, or a boat? Or a perfume contract?'" she said.

Streep also read "An Ode to Emma, Or What Emma is Owed", to which Thompson responded: "Bloody hell, Meryl. What greater love hath no woman, really, that she should don a frock and heels for her friend, write a poem. My god, I'm nauseous with gratitude!"

But Streep adopted a more serious tone earlier in her speech when she claimed Disney "was supposedly a hideous anti-Semite".

"Disney, who brought joy, arguably, to billions of people, was perhaps, or had some … racist proclivities. He formed and supported an anti-Semitic industry lobby. And he was certainly, on the evidence of his company's policies, a gender bigot," she said.

Streep said Disney's associates reported that Walt didn't really like women and read a letter sent to an aspiring female illustrator from his company in 1938. It included the line: “Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen, as that task is performed entirely by young men.”

"When I saw the film, I could just imagine Walt Disney's chagrin at having to cultivate P.L. Travers' favour for 20 years that it took to secure the rights to her work," Streep said.

"It must have killed him to encounter, in a woman, an equally disdainful and superior creature, a person dismissive of his own, considerable gifts and prodigious output and imagination."

Tom Hanks plays a sugarcoated version of Disney in Saving Mr Banks. The actor told the Los Angeles Times that the decision was made to avoid delving into the darker issues surrounding the "beloved" figure of Disney because the film focused more on Travers.

Some critics have argued that Saving Mr Banks is too easy on Disney, but, overall, the film has received praise and numerous award nominations.

Thompson has been nominated for a Golden Globe for best actress for her performance in Saving Mr Banks. The Golden Globes will be held on Monday (Australian time).

Catch our live blog of the 2014 Golden Globes from midday (AEDT) on Monday.

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