If you haven’t heard about the cape that actress Natalie Portman wore to the Oscars last week you must have been living under a rock.
But in case you missed it, here’s a quick recap. Portman wore a black Dior cape to the awards ceremony last week. The names of a number of female directors who missed out on nominations were embroidered into the piece. The names included Lulu Wang and Greta Gerwig as well as the names of six other female directors. When asked about the cape, Portman told reporters, “I want to recognise the women who weren’t recognised for their incredible work this year in my subtle way.”
“I want to recognise the women who weren’t recognised for their incredible work this year in my subtle way.”
Portman was widely lauded for the statement but some have questioned whether the statement was too subtle. And fellow actress, Rose McGowan called Portman out on it. In a Facebook post last week, McGowan said that she found “Portman’s type of activism deeply offensive.” She went on to say that Portman has “worked with two female directors in your very long career - one of them was you.” She also pointed out that Portman is the only female director employed by her production company.
Portman responded to McGowan’s criticism the following day. She acknowledged the critique admitting, “It is true I’ve only made a few films with women.” Pointing to smaller projects, including commercials and music videos, Portman listed some of the female directors she has worked with including; Marya Cohen, Rebecca Zlotowski and Sofia Coppola.
She went on to say that she has worked on numerous other female-led projects that have fallen through. “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,” she said. “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.”
“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.”
It seems a strange thing to be highlighting when it only demonstrates the fact that Portman, and others should be doing more to improve the working conditions of women in the film industry. It’s a point that McGowan made in her original criticism of Portman’s protest, “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.”
And it appears that the public agree with McGowan’s sentiment that Portman’s protest means nothing if it’s not accompanied by action. One user on Twitter commented, “Natalie Portman embroidered her Dior cape with all of the female directors she won’t hire or work for.” Another said, “Imagine pretending to care about female directors while not hiring any yourself.”
Another tweeted, “I think that Natalie Portman wearing a dress with the names of female directors the Oscars snubbed sewn on it while simultaneously owning a production company who has only hired one female director, her. It’s the perfect definition of white feminism.”
While Portman’s cape certainly made a statement about the value of women working in the film industry, that can’t be the end of the conversation. As Portman rightly pointed out in her response, “Female directed films face difficulty getting into festivals, getting distribution and getting accolades because of the gatekeepers at every level.” The cape was just the beginning. In order to see real change, the film industry must support women as they continue to struggle for greater recognition of their art.
Zoe Victoria is a freelance writer. You can follow her on Twitter @Zoe__V