When Natalie Portman walked the red carpet at the 2020 Oscars in a custom Dior dress, she was ready to make a statement.
The gown, which was made from fluid silk tulle and embroidered by the renowned Vermont atelier in Paris, took six artisans to make and over 600 hours of workmanship.
Over the dress itself, was a black cape made from wool and silk, and the lapels created with satin cuir. Along the lapels of the cape is where Portman made her statement, with a list of the eight female directors who were snubbed at the Oscars.
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).
While the bold choice was met with much praise, Portman faced public backlash from a fellow female actor, Rose McGowan.
In a lengthy Facebook post she wrote:
“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 said.
“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.”
“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.”
During the post, McGowan referred to her new book Brave which detailed multiple alleged sexual assaults by Harvey Weinstein, whom she refers to as “the monster”.
McGowan continued: “I am singling you out because you are the latest in a long line of actresses who are acting the part of a woman who cares about other women. Actresses who supposedly stand for women, but in reality do not do much at all.”
“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 statement issued to Variety on February 13, Portman agreed with McGowan.
“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 said.
Then, in another statement issued to BBC News she further added: “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.”
And then acknowledged that there have been other projects with female directors that 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,” she said.
“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 has been vocal in her support of the Time’s Up movement. In 2018, she gave a rousing speech at the Variety magazine’s Power of Women luncheon.
Addressing the under-representation of women in all industries and laying out guidelines to incite change, she rallied for films to stop depicting violence against women and hire them in positions they are not typically hired for.
“Be embarrassed if everyone in your workplace looks like you,” Portman told the room.