Natalie Portman, who at 36 is a veteran of more than 40 films, has taken on a new role: feminist activist. (These excerpts are from a longer interview Portman did with BuzzFeed News.)
When Portman was asked to present the award for Best Director at the Golden Globes, she discussed it with fellow members of Time's Up, the newly formed, Hollywood-based feminist group. "I felt uncomfortable because it seemed to be excluding some deserving nominees. And how could I bring attention to it without disrespecting the nominees? Because it's not their fault, and they all made great work." The result was the viral moment: "... and here are the all-male nominees." It felt like a sick, righteous burn — and something that attempted to set new standards for what's acceptable in the entertainment industry going forward.
"That's part of what we're here to do," Portman said. "We have to make it weird for people to walk in a room where everyone's not in the room. If you look around a room and everyone looks like you, get out of that room. Or change that room."
During an interview about her new movie, Annihilation, which comes out on Friday, Portman discussed her evolution, and said that leading up to this wastershed, she has made her own mistakes, such as signing Bernard-Henri Lévy's pro–Roman Polanski petition after the director was arrested in Switzerland in 2009. "I very much regret it. I take responsibility for not thinking about it enough," she said. "Someone I respected gave it to me, and said, 'I signed this, will you too?' And I was like, sure. It was a mistake. The thing I feel like I gained from it is empathy towards people who have made mistakes. We lived in a different world, and that doesn't excuse anything. But you can have your eyes opened and completely change the way you want to live. My eyes were not open."
With this change, she is now using her position to say things like "I believe you, Dylan" to Dylan Farrow, during an interview Portman and several other Time's Up women did with Oprah Winfrey on CBS Sunday Morning last month. "Do I know anyone's experience? No. But would I question a man who said 'someone stabbed me'? Never!" Portman said. "We know that women are systematically not listened to. That victims of sexual assault are systematically not listened to."
When asked whether Woody Allen's career may be over as a result of the new attention on Farrow's accusations, Portman said, "I don't think that's what the conversation should be about." She continued: "I think it should be about: Why didn't Elaine May make a movie every year? Why didn't Nora Ephron make a movie every year? Where's the female version of Bill Cosby? Why don't we see any Asian women in films? There's so much art that's being lost by not giving opportunities to women and people of color. Let's not talk about what man's career is over. Let's talk about the vast art trove we've lost by not giving women, people of color, people with disabilities, and the LGBTQ+ community opportunities — let's talk about that loss for all of us in art. Let's talk about that huge hole in our culture. I don't want talk about isn't it sad that this person who's made 500 movies can't make movies anymore? That's not for me to decide. And it's also not what I'm upset about."
Annihilation has been accused of whitewashing: In the second book of Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy, it's revealed that Lena, Portman's character, is of Asian descent. She learned of this during an interview, and felt "terrible" about it. "There's a very big problem of representation in Hollywood, and I have very strong feelings about it," she said. "There's much fewer women onscreen than men, and this movie has so many and I feel so proud of it. And particularly women of color are not seen onscreen — and this movie also has wonderful representations of women of color as well! I feel very strongly about the issue, and there just needs to be more representation, and I would hate to be part of that problem. We based it on the first book, which does not mention race at all."
The experience of filming Annihilation with Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, and Tuva Novotny was "incredible," she said — and rare, because she's used to being "the only actress." That's the norm, after all. "Because we've taken it for granted, being the only woman at work — you forget that it isolates and endangers you," Portman said. "You lose all of those opportunities for hearing things that are going on, for warning each other about certain situations, for telling each other how to deal with an uncomfortable experience. It was really wonderful."