Jane Campion apologizes to Venus and Serena Williams for ‘thoughtless comment’
Director Jane Campion apologized Monday for a widely criticized remark she made about tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams the night before at the Critics Choice Awards.
While accepting an award Sunday for directing “The Power of the Dog,” Campion compared her professional journey to that of the Williams sisters — a move Twitter users deemed unnecessary, racist and insulting. Earlier that night, the superstar athletes and executive producers of “King Richard” received a standing ovation while introducing their film about the Williams family — which was nominated in four categories.
“I made a thoughtless comment equating what I do in the film world with all that Serena Williams and Venus Williams have achieved,” Campion said Monday in a statement provided to the Los Angeles Times.
“I did not intend to devalue these two legendary Black women and world class athletes.”
The “Power of the Dog” director was praised and criticized for remarks she made at awards shows over the weekend.
During Sunday’s ceremony, Campion said it was “an honor to be in the room with” the Williams sisters, before adding, “And you know, Serena and Venus, you are such marvels. However, you do not play against the guys like I have to.”
(For the record, a lot of Campion’s critics reacted to a tweet that misquoted the New Zealand filmmaker as saying the Williams sisters “don’t have to compete against the men like I do.”)
“The fact is the Williams sisters have, actually, squared off against men on the court (and off), and they have both raised the bar and opened doors for what is possible for women in this world,” Campion continued in her apology.
“The last thing I would ever want to do is minimize remarkable women. I love Serena and Venus. Their accomplishments are titanic and inspiring. Serena and Venus, I apologize and completely celebrate you.”
Footage from the Critics Choice telecast showed Serena Williams clapping and laughing in the moment, while Venus Williams’ face froze in a half-hearted smile — which some screenshotted and posted in response to Campion’s acceptance speech.
“Serena and Venus didn’t have to be mentioned. Period,” tweeted author Hannah Drake. “All [Campion] needed to do was graciously accept her award. She didn’t come up with this off the cuff. She thought of that line or approved it — talking about two Black women. Leave Black women alone. Just accept the damn award.
“And before anyone tells me about Serena clapping, while I don’t know how she felt, for many Black people in White spaces they just go along because to not causes more issues for them not the White person. And it’s draining and soul sucking.”
Many saw the viral moment as a microcosm of white feminism and called attention to the racism the Williams sisters have endured throughout their careers — on top of the sexism pervasive in sports.
“Jane Campion, like way too many white women, went a step too far, with a smile on her face, and absolutely no self-awareness,” tweeted #OscarsSoWhite creator April Reign. “This is why @Karnythia started #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen. She is why some of us are hesitant to engage with even the most well meaning folks. Fatigue.”
“Is Jane Campion aware what Venus & Serena had to deal with in the whitest of sports?” tweeted writer Noma Faingold. “What an insulting comparison. She must have not watched @KingRichardFilm. @serenawilliams was right when she recently wrote, ‘No matter how far we come, we get reminded that it’s not enough.’”
After noticing Campion’s remarks trending on Twitter, bestselling “Bad Feminist” author Roxane Gay marveled at “how much real estate the Williams occupy in people’s minds.”
“And in addition to the racism of it all, Campion is suggesting that competing against men is more difficult/legitimate than competing against women,” Gay added. “Has she met women???”
Campion’s ill-received speech came shortly after she was commended for her defiant response to actor Sam Elliott’s complaints about “The Power of the Dog.” After Elliott took issue with the Netflix western and its “allusions to homosexuality,” Campion called the performer “a little bit of a b—” during Saturday’s Directors Guild of America Awards.
That quip won her some points on social media. But her Twitter stock appears to have plummeted in the wake of the Critics Choice Awards.
“Jane Campion going from viral good to viral bad in less than 24 hours is such a fascinating case study,” tweeted writer Charlotte Clymer.
Fans have watched Serena Williams grow up before their eyes. Now she is watching her daughter grow up while maintaining the drive to win. The balance isn’t so easy.
“Imagine giving the best & worst soundbites of your career in the space of 24 hours,” tweeted writer @abigail1963.
In a statement to The Times, one member of the Critics Choice Assn. said she and others “cheered when [Campion] made the pronouncement that she played against the boys.”
“When her speech started focusing on the Williams sisters rather than her cast and crew in ‘Power of the Dog,’ I did wonder where it was going,” said CCA member Hillary Atkin.
“With no disrespect to Venus and Serena Williams and millions of other female tennis players ... it’s women’s tennis, whereas film directing is an almost entirely male-dominated profession.”
‘Power of the Dog’ director Jane Campion called actor Sam Elliott’s demeaning remarks about the Oscar-nominated western ‘a little bit sexist.’
Another, however, labeled Campion’s comment “ignorant at best” — especially coming from a pioneering female filmmaker. In February, Campion became the first woman ever nominated twice for the Oscar for directing.
“Women like her are role models for so many, and [Campion] has a lot of responsibility because of that,” said CCA member Kjersti Flaa. “Women should always support each other and lift each other up — and in that very important moment, with so many people watching, Campion did not do that.
“The achievements of the Williams sisters are so much [greater] than just ‘You don’t play against the guys,’ which I am sure they did a lot anyway. All women have to navigate through a landscape where they meet men in powerful positions.”
Times staff writer Michael Ordoña contributed to this report.
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