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Natalie Portman’s ensemble at this year’s Academy Awards — she wore a cape embroidered with the names of snubbed female directors — earned her both some positive headlines and also a good deal of Twitter backlash. Now, one prominent onlooker is stating, for the record, that she wasn’t impressed by the get-up: Rose McGowan.
In a Facebook post published Tuesday, the activist and filmmaker called the cape “the kind of protest that gets rave reviews from the mainstream media for its bravery.” She added, “Brave? No, not by a long shot. More like an actress acting the part of someone who cares. As so many of them do.”
McGowan went on to challenge Portman to do more for female directors than wear a cape with their names on it. “I find Portman’s type of activism deeply offensive to those of us who actually do the work. I’m not writing this out of bitterness, I am writing out of disgust. I just want her and other actresses to walk the walk,” she said. McGowan then suggested that Portman work with more than the two female directors she has collaborated with over the course of her career, and hire more female directors at her production company, Handsomecharlie Films.
(Portman has actually worked with three female helmers on feature films, but two were omnibus films with multiple directors: Mira Nair in New York, I Love You, Rebecca Zlotowski for Planetarium and Vanita Shastry for The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards. She has additionally worked on short films with Marya Cohn (Developing) and Shirin Neshat (Illusions & Mirrors), a music video with Anna Rose Holmer (James Blake’s “My Willing Heart”) and two Dior commercials with Sofia Coppola.)
“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. Yes, you, Natalie. You are the problem. Lip service is the problem. Fake support of other women is the problem,” McGowan continued.
Twitter backlash to Portman’s cape on Sunday also took the actor to task for Handsomecharlie Films only hiring one female director (herself) over the course of eight projects, with three in development. “Really brave of Natalie Portman to elevate the voices of [checks notes] white women in Hollywood through the medium of [squints harder] …a garment that she will wear exactly once made by a brand that doesn’t pay a living wage,” one commentator wrote. “In a nearly 30 year career she has worked with 2 female directors. Be the change you want to see, do the hard work, take the first steps. I applaud you for the dress, but let’s do, not perform,” another added.
“There is no law that says you need to hire women, work with women, or support women. By all means, you do you. But I am saying stop pretending you’re some kind of champion for anything other than yourself,” McGowan concluded. “As for me, I’ll be over here raising my voice and fighting for change without any compensation. That is activism. 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.”
In a response to McGowan’s criticism, Portman said in a statement on Wednesday, “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.”
She acknowledged that she hasn’t worked on many projects with women as well: “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 Cohen, 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.”
Portman went on to discuss the challenges women face getting films made at studios, independently financed, produced, distributed at festivals, distributed in theaters and on streaming and being honored with rewards: “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,” she wrote. “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.”
Portman wasn’t the only avowed star feminist whose statements at the Oscars provoked groans on social media and among media types on Sunday. The Daily Beast pronounced a presentation speech by Sigourney Weaver, Brie Larson and Gal Gadot to be the night’s “most cringeworthy moment.” Weaver called “all women” “superheroes” during the pro-Strong Female Character speech, which prompted one Twitter user to write, ” ‘All women are superheroes’ has shortened my lifespan by about 10 years, how infantilizing, all of this is the fucking worst.”
Read McGowan’s full statement below.
Feb. 12, 1:16 p.m. Updated with Natalie Portman’s statement.
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