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Meryl Streep Says ‘Out of Africa’ Shampoo Scene Is a “Sex Scene in a Way”

Photo Credit: Gao Jing / Xinhua / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Gao Jing / Xinhua / Getty Images

At the Cannes Film Festival, Meryl Streep was honored with a special award, where she revealed in a heartfelt speech that she considers one of the most iconic scenes of her career a sex scene. The scene in question is from the film Out of Africa, and while the scene involved no sexual content, it is considerably intimate. Streep even revealed a tidbit about her former co-star, Robert Redford.

Out of Africa was a big success

Robert Redford and Meryl Streep in period clothing, sitting on the ground.
Meryl Streep and Robert Redford starred in ‘Out of Africa‘ together. (Photo Credit: Universal Pictures / michaella92 / MovieStillsDB)

Out of Africa, directed by Sydney Pollack, was released in 1985 and starred two powerhouse leads, with Meryl Streep appearing alongside Robert Redford. The American epic romantic drama takes place in British East Africa in the early 20th century. Karen Blixen (Streep), a baroness, and Denys Finch Hatton (Redford), a big game hunter, fall in love and begin a romantic affair in the lush desert.

The film was loosely based on the 1937 book of the same title, written by Karen Blixen under the pseudonym Isak Dinesen. It also contained material from one of her later books, Shadows on the Grass, published in 1960. Out of Africa was a major commercial success, earning a whopping $227.5 million worldwide and sweeping the Oscars, winning a total of seven Academy Awards. Streep herself was nominated for Best Actress for her role in the film.

Redford was horrible at shampooing

Robert Redford washing Meryl Streep's hair in a river.
Redford’s first attempt at the scene was bad. (Photo Credit: Universal Pictures / MovieStillsDB)

One of the most iconic scenes of the film was the shampooing scene in a South African river involving both of the main characters. However, filming the scene came with its own risks. Streep explained how the production warned the actors that “the animal that kills the most men in Africa is the hippopotamus, especially when you come between them and the river.”

Naturally, Redford was extremely nervous, shampooing Streep’s scalp with the same intensity of kneading bread. “It was not good,” Streep explained. It was her longtime hair and makeup artist, Roy Hellund, who gave Redford a few pointers to really nail the scene. After this, his approach significantly improved. “I was in love by take 5,” Streep said of Redford.

Streep says it was a “sex scene” in its own way

Robert Redford washing Meryl Streep's hair in a river.
Streep called it a “sex-scene” in its own way. (Photo Credit: Universal Pictures / michaella92 / MovieStillsDB)

The final product was spectacular. The scene became known as one of the most intimate moments in film history. While there was no explicit sexual conduct, the scene feels extremely sensual, and Streep herself said so. “It’s a sex scene in a way, because it’s so intimate. We’ve seen so many scenes of people f******, but we don’t see that loving touch, that care.” She made this comment at the 2025 Cannes Film Festival.

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She was awarded an honorary Palme d’Or at the opening ceremony of the festival, to which she received a remarkable two-minute-long standing ovation. Unsurprisingly, while reflecting on her long career in the entertainment industry, she became visibly emotional during her speech. Streep has previously received a Cannes Film Festival Award in 1989 for Best Actress in Evil Angels.

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Samantha Franco

Samantha Franco is a Freelance Content Writer who received her Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Guelph, and her Master of Arts degree in history from the University of Western Ontario. Her research focused on Victorian, medical, and epidemiological history with a focus on childhood diseases. Stepping away from her academic career, Samantha previously worked as a Heritage Researcher and now writes content for multiple sites covering an array of historical topics.

In her spare time, Samantha enjoys reading, knitting, and hanging out with her dog, Chowder!