When Natalie Portman sashayed down the red carpet at the Oscars wearing a black Dior cape embroidered with the names of female directors, it was at first hailed as a classy couture clapback against the Academy’s 2020 lack of diversity.
“I wanted to recognise the women who were not recognised for their incredible work this year in my subtle way,” she told Los Angeles Times reporter Amy Kaufman on the red carpet, in a video posted to Twitter.
The names inscribed on the Oscar winner’s custom Dior look included Little Women director Greta Gerwig and Lulu Wang (The Farewell).
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Honoring these remarkable women last night who were not recognized for their incredible work: @thumbelulu, #GretaGerwig, @lorenescafaria, @mariellestilesheller, @matidiop, @msmelina, @alma.harel, and @celine_sciamma. Hair @adamcampbellhair Makeup @lisastoreymakeup Jewelry @dior @cartier Styling #ryanhastings
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But no sooner had the ink dried on the best and worst dressed lists than the Black Swan star – called “brave” for her silent protest – found herself embroiled in a cape controversy that has rolled on for days.
Taking to Facebook, actor and Harvey Weinstein accuser Rose McGowan slammed Portman, 38, for her literal fashion statement, claiming the star was just “acting the part of someone who cares”.
Activist McGowan, 46, said she found the call-out cape “deeply offensive to those of us who actually do the work”.
Specifically, McGowan said Portman is “the problem” because she claimed the Jackie actor has only “worked with two female directors in your very long career – one of them was you”.
But McGowan wasn’t finished.
Portman’s production company Handsomecharlie Films, “has hired exactly one female director – you”.
“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.”
Portman chose to fight back by taking the same side as McGowan – sort of.
“I agree with Ms McGowan that it is inaccurate to call me ‘brave’ for wearing a garment with women’s names on it,” she said in a statement.
“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.”
The past few years post-Me Too have seen “a blossoming of directing opportunities for women due to the collective efforts of many people who have been calling out the system,” Portman said.
“The gift has been [films like Little Women and The Farewell.] I hope that what was intended as a simple nod to them does not distract from their great achievements.”
She admitted “it is true” she’s only made a “few” films with women, but only because projects with female directors haven’t worked out.
Portman said she had made “shorts, commercials, music videos” with women helmers including Sofia Coppola and Mira Nair.
As has been “well documented”, female films have been “incredibly hard” to get made at studios and don’t attract independent financing, Portman continued.
“If these films do get made, women face enormous challenges during the making of them”, then it’s tough to place them at festivals and get distribution and 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’s cape wasn’t her first protest against male-dominated Hollywood.
In 2018, presenting the best director award with Ron Howard, she criticised the Golden Globes for its exclusion of female nominees in the category.
“And here are all the male nominees,” she said.
In the Oscars’ 92-year history, only five women have been nominated as best director, with Kathryn Bigelow making history in 2010 with her film The Hurt Locker.
No other woman has since won best director.