Culture, Entertainment

Opinion: Natalie Portman’s Coat is Not Activism

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The Oscars were a couple of days ago, and like most people, keeping up with best (and worst) dressed on the red carpet is more important to me than the actual winners of the award show.

Israeli actress Natalie Portman, best known for her performances in Léon: The Professional (1994), V for Vendetta (2005) and Black Swan (2010) got people talking with her red carpet outfit at the 92nd award show.

Portman, wearing a black Maria Grazia Chiuri–designed Dior dress with gold embroidery, features a coat (a cape, to be exact) with the names of all the female directors who weren’t nominated this year.

Natalie Portman has been described as making a powerful feminist fashion statement. Writing for Vogue, Janelle Okwodu writes: ‘One of the biggest criticisms of the 2020 Academy Awards has been the lack of female nominees within the directing categories, and Portman’s look was an urgent reminder of this. The event marked the 10th anniversary of Kathryn Bigelow’s landmark Best Director win for The Hurt Locker, yet the Oscars failed to honor any of the women who defined the year’s film landscape.’

The 38-year-old actor said: “I wanted to recognise the women who were not recognised for their incredible work this year in my subtle way.”

Some have congratulated Portman, with one Twitter user, lc3lad_ calling her “iconic”.

Lorene Scafaria (Hustlers), Lulu Wang (The Farewell), Greta Gerwig (Little Women), Mati Diop (Atlantics), Marielle Heller (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood), Melina Matsoukas (Queen & Slim), Alma Har’el (Honeyboy), and Céline Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady On Fire) were ‘snubbed’ at the Oscars and features on the lapel of Natalie’s cape.

But wearing a black Dior cape with name embroidery isn’t enough. It isn’t activism. She needs to be the change that she wants to see herself. This cape is performative, and makes her look like a hypocrite.

One Twitter user said: “I am so sick of performative (white) feminism being applauded, especially when Natalie Portman has a production company and it has only ever hired (1) female director: Her”.

Portman has only ever starred in two films with a female director over her 26 year career, one of them being herself. The other film is somewhat unknown called Planetarium, with French Director Rebecca Zlotowski, that grossed a mere $3,262 in the US.

Portman’s production company thehandsomecharliefilms have only ever hired one female director, that being Natalie Portman.

South Korean film maker Bong Joon-Ho won the award for Best Director with his film Parasite. The film also won Best Picture, Best Foreign Language Film, Best Original Screenplay, Best Production Design and Best Film Editing.

Joon Ho’s win has been dubbed historic and as as a win for Asians all over the world. While female representation is important in films, and behind them is important. Ignoring Joon Ho’s win with Parasite, ignores the racialised social hierarchy within Hollywood, and the US.

If Natalie want’s more female directors to be nominated for major awards, then she should use her power, influence and money to produce films with female directors. Until then, wearing the names of directors on the lapel of your dress is an accessory, not activism.

About the author / 

Shawna Healey

I'm Shawna, 21, and Welsh studying Geography at MMU. I have varying interests and opinions but usually its all things feminism.

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