Natalie Portman’s scathing burn at the 2018 Golden Globes was one to remember. Just a week after the announcement of the Time’s Up initiative and legal defense fund to combat workplace harassment and discrimination, Portman‚ who’d pledged her allegiance to the cause, stood onstage beside filmmaker Ron Howard to present the award for best director. Wearing black velvet, a sign of solidarity with victims of sexual assault and harassment, Portman said factually, but with pointed, stinging significance: “And here are the all-male nominees.” If you were watching, you didn’t know whether to cheer loudly, laugh maniacally or cry a little, because in 2018, diversity and inclusion are still such challenges in even the most well-known industries.
Cheered we did and this moment emerged alongside Oprah Winfrey’s unofficial presidential bid as one of the most memorable and heroic of the night. And Portman’s vocal engagement with the movement didn’t stop there.
In a group interview with Winfrey and several other members of the Time’s Up initiative a week after the Golden Globes on CBS Sunday Morning, Portman spoke about inequality in the workplace: “We’re human beings, whether we are related to a man or not. We deserve the same respect.”
She followed that up at the Women’s March in Los Angeles on January 20: Portman delivered a powerful speech about her experience with “sexual terrorism” after the release of her first film, Léon: The Professional, at age 13. She recalled, among other horrifying experiences, thinking she’d received her first piece of fan mail only to find a rape fantasy written by a man and, just a short while later, how film critics referred to her “budding breasts” in reviews of Léon.
Portman spoke about how she learned in those moments that she would feel unsafe if she expressed herself sexually, and as such built a reputation as “being prudish, conservative, nerdy, serious” in an effort to protect herself—even rejecting roles if they had kissing scenes. “I felt the need to cover my body and to inhibit my expression and my work in order to send my own message to the world: That I’m someone worthy of safety and respect,” she said. “The response to my expression from small comments about my body to more threatening deliberate statements served to control my behaviour through an environment of sexual terrorism.”
Now, in an interview with BuzzFeed—to promote her new film Annihilation, with a diverse and predominantly female cast—Portman talks to reporter Kate Aurthur about that epic Golden Globes moment, diversity in Hollywood and, yes, whether or not she has regrets over voicing her support in the past for convicted sex offender and filmmaker Roman Polanski.
If you’re not in the loop about the Polanski issue, here’s a refresher. In 2009, Portman signed a petition in support of Polanski, who has been a fugitive from the U.S. criminal justice system since 1978, having fled to France while awaiting sentencing for statutory rape. Polanski, then 43, had been charged with five offences against a 13-year-old girl including: rape by use of drugs, perversion, sodomy, lewd and lascivious act upon a child under 14 and furnishing a controlled substance to a minor. Polanski pleaded not guilty to all charges but later accepted a plea bargain dismissing the five initial charges in exchange for a guilty plea to a lesser charge of engaging in unlawful sexual intercourse.
Despite her political and social activism, Portman’s been on the receiving end of criticism about this Polanski allegiance periodically ever since. Here, whether or not she regrets that decision, the importance of believing survivors and more things we learned from Portman’s BuzzFeed interview.
On her Roman Polanski regrets
“I very much regret it,” Portman said of her decision to sign the 2009 petition urging the release of Polanski following his arrest in Switzerland after evading U.S. authorities for 31 years. “I take responsibility for not thinking about it enough. Someone I respected gave it to me, and said, ‘I signed this. Will you too?’ And I was like, sure. It was a mistake,” she continued.
“The thing I feel like I gained from it is empathy towards people who have made mistakes. We lived in a different world, and that doesn’t excuse anything. But you can have your eyes opened and completely change the way you want to live. My eyes were not open.”
On believing women—like Dylan Farrow
“I think there’s a direct connection between believing women about their own experience and allowing women to be experts of their own experience and every woman’s voice being heard. Whether it’s someone talking about their work and not being listened to, or someone talking about their own experience of assault and being told that they don’t know what they’re talking about, I think there’s a direct connection between that,” Portman told BuzzFeed.
“Of course, do I know anyone’s experience? No. But would I question a man who said ‘someone stabbed me’? Never! You know? I think it’s bizarre. We know that women are systematically not listened to. That victims of sexual assault are systematically not listened to.”
On her expert Golden Globes shade
“I discussed with some of the women I’ve been working with that they had offered to me to present the director category, but I felt uncomfortable because it seemed to be excluding some deserving nominees. And how could I bring attention to it without disrespecting the nominees? Because it’s not their fault, and they all made great work. You don’t want to not recognize them. It’s just, why aren’t we recognizing the people who aren’t part of this exclusive club? So one of the women recommended I say that, and it felt like stating something that was true,” Portman told Aurthur about the decision to present the award for best director on January 7.
“That’s part of what we’re here to do. We have to make it weird for people to walk in a room where everyone’s not in the room. If you look around a room and everyone looks like you, get out of that room. Or change that room. Whether you go to a restaurant, whether you go to your kid’s school, whether you go to work—if you look around, and everyone’s not in the room, change that room.”
On leading a nearly all-female cast in Annihilation
“What feels so revolutionary for us is daily life for men. Men are used to sitting around a table with all men, men are used to being at work with all men; for us, it feels radical,” she told BuzzFeed. “I’ve had wonderful male mentorships, wonderful male colleagues—that exists. But we’ve completely lost female mentorship, and missed out because you just don’t get exposed to it as much. It’s just rarer because of the lower percentage of women in every position of power.”
On the lack of diversity in Hollywood
When asked how she felt about it feeling like time’s up for Woody Allen, Portman flipped the conversation to the lack of representation in Hollywood. “I don’t think that’s what the conversation should be about. I think it should be about: Why didn’t Elaine May make a movie every year? Why didn’t Nora Ephron make a movie every year? Where’s the female version of Bill Cosby? Why don’t we see any Asian women in films?” she said.
“There’s so much art that’s being lost by not giving opportunities to women and people of colour. Let’s not talk about what man’s career is over. Let’s talk about the vast art trove we’ve lost by not giving women, people of colour, people with disabilities, and the LGBTQ+ community opportunities—let’s talk about that loss for all of us in art. Let’s talk about that huge hole in our culture.”
Why We Shouldn’t Expect Reese Witherspoon to Name Her Abuser
WTF Is Going on with Sports Illustrated Swimsuit’s Me Too-themed Photoshoot?
#MeToo Is a “Necessary Social Awakening,” Says Ghomeshi Lawyer Marie Henein