Meryl Streep
Meryl Streep has come under fire for her controversial remarks on the diversity debateGetty

Meryl Streep is facing a backlash on social media after she told reporters at the Berlin Film Festival: "We're all Africans really". Streep, who is heading the festival jury for the first time, dismissed criticism of the all-white panel, adding that she is committed to equality and the inclusion of "all genders, race, ethnicities, religions".

The seven-member jury includes 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.

"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," the triple Oscar-winning actress said. "So I think the Berlinale is ahead of the game."

However, the actress went on to make a controversial remark after she was asked by an Egyptian reporter whether she understood films from the Arab world and North Africa. Admitting that she did not know much about the region she said: "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."

Social media users decried the "ignorant" comments from the otherwise esteemed actress, who was trending on Twitter. "Did Meryl Streep really say 'we are all Africans?' " posted one commentator. "Meryl Streep says we're all Africans. Ok, so you are versatile, but you're not THAT versatile," said another.

While some social media users attempted to defend the star, the wider sentiment was one of disappointment. "Why did Meryl Streep have to say such a stupid thing honestly," said one fan.

Charlotte Rampling faced a similar reaction after claiming the debate is "racist to whites". The British star, who received a best actress nod for her role in 45 Years, suggested that perhaps performances from the black actors snubbed from the nominations list were not good enough to be recognised.

She later backtracked, claiming that her remarks were taken out of context after criticism on social media.

Streep's comments have reignited the "Oscars So White" debate, which saw Hollywood stars Jada Pinkett Smith and her husband Will Smith make a pledge to boycott the forthcoming Academy awards in protest at the lack of ethnic diversity in this year's nominations.

Stars including Dustin Hoffman, Lupita Wyong'o, George Clooney, David Oyelowo and Rafe Spall have also expressed their dismay at the all-white nominee list. Responding to the uproar, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced last month that it was changing its membership rules. Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs pledged "dramatic changes" to diversity in the academy's membership and the introduction of "measures aimed at making its Oscar choices more diverse".

The Berlin festival has defended Streep, claiming her comments were being misconstrued. "We don't consider Meryl Streep's comments to be in any way insensitive," a spokesman for the Berlin festival told Variety. "As she made it clear throughout the press conference, she is committed to inclusiveness of all ethnicities, religions and genders. She underlined that we are all the same, all equal."

The festival is opening with the Coen brothers' comedy Hail Caesar! starring George Clooney and Josh Brolin. Some 18 movies are in contention for the Golden Bear prize at the festival, which is in its 66th year and runs from 11 to 21 February.