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Natalie Portman defends her record after Rose McGowan calls her activism ‘fake’

Natalie Portman
Natalie Portman wears a cape embroidered with the names of snubbed female directors at the 92nd Academy Awards.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Natalie Portman drew praise on Oscar Sunday with a pointed fashion statement honoring snubbed female directors. Now she is drawing criticism from some who claim she is part of “the problem.”

Actress Rose McGowan was particularly unimpressed with the “Lucy in the Sky” star’s red carpet performance, slamming Portman on Facebook Tuesday and asking her to “stop pretending you’re some kind of champion for anything other than yourself.”

Portman’s black-and-gold ensemble featured a cape embroidered with the names of several filmmakers, including Greta Gerwig (“Little Women”), Lulu Wang (“The Farewell”), Lorene Scafaria (“Hustlers”), Marielle Heller (“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”), Mati Diop (“Atlantics”), Melina Matsoukas (“Queen & Slim”), Alma Har’el (“Honey Boy”) and Céline Sciamma (“Portrait of a Lady on Fire”).

Once again, no women received recognition from the motion picture academy in the directing category this year.

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“Some thoughts on Natalie Portman and her Oscar ‘protest,’” McGowan’s post began. “The kind of protest that gets rave reviews from the mainstream media for its bravery. Brave? No, not by a long shot. More like an actress acting the part of someone who cares. As so many of them do.”

In a lengthy statement released Wednesday afternoon, Portman acknowledged McGowan’s concerns and partly agreed with them.

“I agree with Ms. McGowan that it is inaccurate to call me ‘brave’ for wearing a garment with women’s names on it. Brave is a term I more strongly associate with actions like those of the women who have been testifying against Harvey Weinstein the last few weeks, under incredible pressure,” Portman said, likely referring to McGowan, who has been one of Weinstein’s most vocal accusers.

“The past few years have seen a blossoming of directing opportunities for women due to the collective efforts of many people who have been calling out the system,” she added. “The gift has been these incredible films. I hope that what was intended as a simple nod to them does not distract from their great achievements.”

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McGowan’s critique went on to suggest that Portman’s activism is “fake” and hypocritical, as the Oscar winner has worked with only two female directors over her decades-long career — one being herself. (Actually, Portman has worked with a total of three female directors on feature films — two of whom shared directing credits on their projects with other filmmakers. Portman also directed herself and others in 2015’s “A Tale of Love and Darkness.”)

Portman pointed out in her statement that she has collaborated with female filmmakers on “shorts, commercials, music videos and features,” name-checking Marya Cohn, Mira Nair, Rebecca Zlotowski, Anna Rose Holmer, Sofia Coppola, Shirin Neshat “and myself.”

“What is it with actresses of your ilk? You ‘A-listers’ ... could change the world if you’d take a stand instead of being the problem,” McGowan’s message continued. “Yes, you, Natalie. You are the problem. Lip service is the problem. Fake support of other women is the problem. ... I am singling you out because you are the latest in a long line of actresses who are acting the part of a woman who cares about other women. Actresses who supposedly stand for women, but in reality do not do much at all.”

Natalie Portman arrived at the 92nd Academy Awards wearing a cape with the names of female directors who weren’t nominated Sunday.

In order to walk the walk, McGowan suggested the “Black Swan” actress start by hiring more female filmmakers through her production company, Handsomecharlie Films. According to IMDb, the company has so far made seven feature films, and enlisted only one female helmer — Portman — for " A Tale of Love and Darkness.”

In her statement, Portman implied that she has tried unsuccessfully to make more films helmed by women.

“There is no law that says you need to hire women, work with women, or support women,” McGowan wrote. “By all means, you do you. But ... until you and your fellow actresses get real, do us all a favor and hang up your embroidered activist cloak, it doesn’t hang right.”

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Portman also sparked backlash from others on social media who shared McGowan’s frustration. Oscar-winning “Black Panther” production designer Hannah Beachler was among the first wave of skeptics to call the industry veteran out on Twitter on Monday.

“Be the change you want to see, do the hard work, take the first steps,” Beachler wrote. “I applaud you for the dress, but let’s do, not perform.”

Sunday was not the first time Portman has used her platform to champion female directors at an awards show. While presenting the best director honor alongside Ron Howard at the 2018 Golden Globes, she famously took a swipe at the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. — which has a long history of shutting women out of the directing category — saying, “Here are the all-male nominees.”

Read Portman’s complete response to McGowan’s criticism below.

“I agree with Ms. McGowan that it is inaccurate to call me ‘brave’ for wearing a garment with women’s names on it. Brave is a term I more strongly associate with actions like those of the women who have been testifying against Harvey Weinstein the last few weeks, under incredible pressure.

“The past few years have seen a blossoming of directing opportunities for women due to the collective efforts of many people who have been calling out the system. The gift has been these incredible films. I hope that what was intended as a simple nod to them does not distract from their great achievements.

“It is true I’ve only made a few films with women. In my long career, I’ve only gotten the chance to work with female directors a few times - I’ve made shorts, commercials, music videos and features with Marya [Cohn], Mira Nair, Rebecca Zlotowski, Anna Rose Holmer, Sofia Coppola, Shirin Neshat and myself.

“Unfortunately, the unmade films I have tried to make are a ghost history.

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“As Stacy Smith of USC has well documented, female films have been incredibly hard to get made at studios, or to get independently financed. If these films do get made, women face enormous challenges during the making of them. I have had the experience a few times of helping get female directors hired on projects which they were then forced out of because of the conditions they faced at work.

“After they are made, female-directed films face difficulty getting into festivals, getting distribution and getting accolades because of the gatekeepers at every level.

“So I want to say, I have tried, and I will keep trying. While I have not yet been successful, I am hopeful that we are stepping into a new day.”


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