February 9th was a big night in Hollywood: Oscars night. Before the ceremony even began Natalie Portman was turning heads on the red carpet. Portman used embroidery to make a subtle statement about the lack of female nominees in the Director category. The black Dior cape featured the names of snubbed directors along the trim in gold thread. This is not the first time Portman has made a statement on this topic at the Oscars. Two years ago Portman made a point of saying “the all male-nominees” while presenting the award for Best Director. The names listed were: Lorene Scafaria, Greta Gerwig, Mati Diop, Marielle Heller, Alma Har’el, Céline Sciamma, Melina Matsoukas, and Lulu Wang.
Reactions to her cape were mixed. While some people took to Twitter to comment on how much they loved the outfit, calling it one of the highlights of the night complete with heart-eye emojis others were less pleased. Specifically Rose McGowen made headlines calling her dress “deeply offensive to those of us who actually do the work” in a statement. According to an article from HuffPost, in a post on her Facebook McGowen stated, “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…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.”
There is a feeling that Portman’s actions are hypocritical; simultaneously while she is taking a stand about female directors she has failed to work with and hire female directors in the past. This does not sit well with McGowen, “lip service is a problem. Fake support of other women is the problem.”
This statement by McGowen had mixed reception too. While some jumped to agree with her sentiments, others disagreed. One of the people who came out in support of Portman was Alma Har’el who tweeted after Portman released a response statement:
“If you need a class at being classy read Natalie Portman’s statement. Appreciation for the discourse but Natalie fought for Jenkins (Thor 2) and Ramsey (Jane Got A Gun) and many more. She also worked with many women directors on MV and Ads. I stan this class act & thank her.”
According to a CNN article, Natalie Portman’s responded to the initial statement made by Rose McGowen stating:“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 continued by saying: “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.”
Finally she said, “Unfortunately, the unmade films I have tried to make are a ghost history…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.”
While Portman intended the statement her outfit made to be subtle, it ended up being quite the opposite, gracing headlines of various publications such as The Guardian, HuffPost, Variety, CNN, and many more. Portman said it perfectly when she said, “the past few years have seen a blossoming of directing opportunities for women due to the collective efforts of many people who have been calling out the system. The gift has been these incredible films. I hope that what was intended as a simple nod to them does not distract from their great achievements.” What is important as yet another award season wraps up, are the films themselves and the incredible people who worked on those films. The Academy and the Hollywood Foreign Press need to do better. According to the Golden Globes website the last time a woman was nominated for the “Best Director” award was 2015. The Farewell which received zero Oscar nominations took home the Independent Spirit Award for Best Feature.
Making noise about this is important even if it’s just a subtle nod on a cape or a fight that is taking place behind the scenes without our knowledge or one that is happening out in the open for us all to witness. As award season wraps up and you create a list of all the films you still need to watch make sure to watch more than what was nominated. Watch more than what won. Award shows like the Oscars or the Golden Globes do not tell the entire story of what was the great cinema of a particular year. There is always more to the story; there are always more stories that need to be given the room (or in this case the screen) to be told.