When Natalie Portman wore a dress championing female film directors to the Oscars, she was praised by many – but also faced a backlash.
“You are the problem,” actress Rose McGowan said. “Yes, you, Natalie. Lip service is the problem. Fake support of other women is the problem.”
McGowan argued that Portman doesn’t “walk the walk” because she doesn’t have a great track record of working with female directors herself.
Portman has now responded, saying the reason is that there are “gatekeepers at every level” who prevent such films getting made.
Here’s the full story.
Why did Portman’s dress cause a stir?
Portman walked the red carpet at Sunday night’s Oscars wearing a custom Dior gown and cape, which took more than 900 hours to make.
Those who looked closely spotted that the cape was adorned with the names of some of the female directors who weren’t nominated at this year’s Academy Awards.
For the ninth year in the past decade, all five of the best director nominees were male.
The female directors highlighted by Portman included Lorene Scafaria (who directed Hustlers), Lulu Wang (The Farewell), Greta Gerwig (Little Women), Marielle Heller (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood) and Melina Matsoukas (Queen & Slim).
The Oscar-winning actress has form when it comes to this issue. While presenting the best director category at the 2018 Golden Globes, she said: “And here are the all-male nominees.”
What was the response to the dress?
To begin with, widespread support.
“Not all heroes wear capes, but Natalie Portman is now one of them,” declared Harper’s Bazaar.
“Bravo, Natalie,” added Marie Claire.
However, a few social media sleuths began looking into Portman’s filmography, which showed the actress has only worked with two female directors in her career.
And one of them was herself.
Furthermore, her own production company, Handsomecharlie Films, has not yet made a film with a female director (again, other than Portman herself).
Two tweets in particular that drew attention to these facts received more than 300,000 likes between them.
What did Rose McGowan say?
In a Facebook post, the Grindhouse actress wrote: “[This was] 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.
“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.”
McGowan highlighted Portman’s poor track record when it came to working with and hiring female directors.
“What is it with actresses of your ilk?,” she continued. “You ‘A-listers’ could change the world if you’d take a stand instead of being the problem.
“Stop pretending you’re some kind of champion for anything other than yourself. Until you and your fellow actresses get real, do us all a favour and hang up your embroidered activist cloak, it doesn’t hang right.”
How has Portman responded?
While acknowledging the criticisms about her own previous work, Portman defended herself and drew attention to other projects she’s worked on which had women at the helm.
“It is true I’ve only made a few films with women,” she said in a statement issued to BBC News.
“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.”
The actress added that other projects with female directors, which are not public knowledge, have fallen through.
“Unfortunately, the unmade films I have tried to make are a ghost history,” she said.
“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.”