The actress, who received the Cecil B. DeMille Award, gave a speech which encapsulated the evening’s prevailing themes of hope, inclusivity and action amid anger about the imminent presidency of Donald Trump.
“You and all of us in this room really belong to the most vilified segments in American society right now,” Streep said. “Think about it, Hollywood, foreigners, and the press.”
Without even mentioning Trump by name, Streep eviscerated the President-elect’s use of his power and rank in the mocking of a disabled reporter on the campaign trail this year.
“When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose,” Streep said, imploring those in the room to remember “the privilege and the responsibility of the act of empathy” and also the vital role of the press in holding “power to account”.
Her comments came as the film La La Land broke records by winning all of its leading seven nominations, including best motion picture, comedy or musical.
It won best acting gongs for Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, while Damien Chazelle won both director and screenplay.
The film also took best score, for composer Justin Hurwitz, and best song for City of Stars.
Stone, Gosling and Chazelle all spoke of the film’s hopeful message of pursuing dreams despite obstacles.
But Barry Jenkins’ coming-of-age drama Moonlight – which had been snubbed throughout the evening – took home best picture drama.
Also among the nominees was actress Natalie Portman, who was up for a best actress prize for her role in the film Jackie.
Oscar nominations are due to be announced on 24 January.