Natalie Portman Tried To Help But She Could Have Done So Much More
Rose McGowan has gone off again, saying she finds Natalie Portman’s activism “deeply offensive” in a Facebook rant.
And though I know plenty will say McGowan shouldn’t tear other women down, and that Portman was at least doing something, I still think the actress-turned-activist has a point.
Let me explain.
In case you missed the deluge of coverage, Natalie Portman wore a black and gold Dior dress to the Oscars with a cape that featured the names of all the women she thought deserved a nomination for best director because -- guess what -- no woman got one.
The names included Lorene Scafaria (Hustlers), Lulu Wang (The Farewell), Greta Gerwig (Little Women), Mati Diop (Atlantics), Marianne Heller (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood), Melina Matsoukas (Queen & Slim), Alma Har’el (Honey Boy) and Céline Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady on Fire).
It was a novel way of highlighting a worthy cause. And Portman is no slouch in that department. She has been a vocal part of the Time’s Up movement since it launched two years ago. Time’s Up put together a US $22 million fund, including a legal team so women across all industries could fight sexual misconduct, and Portman probably sunk some coin into that.
The 2018 Golden Globes was where, as a presenter, she first called out the lack of female directors. No doubt she was capitalising on that moment -- which went viral -- with the embroidery cape at the Oscars.
McGowan wasn’t having it, though, accusing Portman of “fake support”, saying she needed to do more.
"Natalie, you have worked with two female directors in your very long career -- one of them was you. You have a production company that has hired exactly one female director -- you.”
(For the record, Portman has worked with more than two female directors. It does appear that she is the only female director hired by her company, Handsomecharlie Films.)
McGowan also expressed disgust at the mainstream media for lauding such a small sartorial act as “brave”. To her credit, Portman agreed, saying in a statement that what she did wasn’t brave.
And though I know that McGowan’s rage sprays can contain more heated emotion than constructive criticism, I have to agree with her here.
Wearing a pretty dress with tiny names on it solidifies Portman’s identity as a type of feisty fashion plate. And, as Portman is 38 years old, a cynical person might say it’s the pivot she needs if she wants to keep her brand alive in Hollywood.
Portman is smart (hola Harvard!) and she would know this. Even if she didn’t, celebrities have teams of people devoted to knowing this. If you don’t believe me, go watch Kevin Hart’s mea culpa documentary for proof. Teams sit around tables and strategise every move a celebrity should make and how it will land. The cape would have been signed off by at least three people before it was even sewn.
Dabbling in feminist activism (which she heartily believes in) is a valuable feather in her cap. It’s intellectually vibrant, and grown-up, but also relatable. Heat score 10/10.
But while her heart was in the right place with the embroidery, Portman really had no reason to be at the Oscars. She was there as a presenter. If she was serious -- or as serious as McGowan would like her to be -- about the Academy Awards elevating mostly white males in movies that glorify war (1917), glamorise criminality (The Irishman, Joker) and violence (Joker again) as well as one guy’s weird revenge fantasy on behalf of the real life brutal murder of a woman he never knew, (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood) then, well, she could’ve said no!
“No thanks, don’t want to present at that type of gig, don’t care that I will miss out on the exposure -- it just doesn’t sit right. See you at the Vanity Fair party, guys.”
If she was feeling particularly McGowan-ish, she could’ve released a statement or an Instagram video, highlighting why.
But she didn’t do that. She went. She posed. She got her dress and her face splashed across the Internet, to the raucous applause of all of us.
Not that Portman is alone in this toe-dipping activism. Joaquin Phoenix’s wide-ranging speech was just that -- a speech.
But Portman could have done more. She could have followed Ellen Barkin’s lead and showed up to the Harvey Weinstein trial to add support (as McGowan and Rosanna Arquette did). She could take advantage of her platform, as Jane Fonda does, and turn up to (and get arrested at) protests.
And she could, as McGowan mentioned, use her considerable clout and power as a producer to make films with more women, especially women of colour, in them -- in front of and behind the camera. Documentaries in particular have bolstered movements and led to change. Look at The Invisible War -- a 2012 documentary about the epidemic of sexual violence against women in the US military, which led to changes in military policy.
But it needs to be said that while Portman could be doing more, at least she did something. Something that caught people’s attention. There were a lot of other people at the Oscars who did a lot less.
However, what I think McGowan was saying is that Portman is symptomatic of Hollywood, where you stand up for justice, just as long as it doesn’t cost you too much. With her embroidered cape, Portman isn't sacrificing her reputation or income. And on that point, I think she’s absolutely right.