Natalie Portman wonders if women are purposefully isolated on film sets

L.A. Dance Project's Annual Gala - Arrivals

Natalie Portman participated in the Vulture Festival in LA two weekends ago. The Vulture Festival featured many Hollywood power players, show runners, actors, producers, etc, and they were supposed to talk about their projects, their work and more, but of course the conversations kept coming back to sexual harassment and sexual assault, and how women specifically are treated within the industry. Natalie Portman has some stories and some theories – while she says she was never physically abused by any Hollywood predator, she has been the victim of sexism and everyday harassment about a million times. Some quotes:

On the allegations against Hollywood predators: “When I heard everything coming out, I was like, wow, I’m so lucky that I haven’t had this. And then, on reflection, I was like, okay, definitely never been assaulted, definitely not, but I’ve had discrimination or harassment on almost everything I’ve ever worked on in some way… I went from thinking I don’t have a story to thinking, Oh wait, I have 100 stories. And I think a lot of people are having these reckonings with themselves, of things that we just took for granted as like, this is part of the process.”

A story about one producer: For example, she says a producer once invited her to fly with him and his company on a private plane to a place she was also going. “I showed up and it was just the two of us, and one bed was made on the plane. Nothing happened, I was not assaulted. I said: ‘This doesn’t make me feel comfortable,’ and that was respected. But that was super not okay, you know? That was really unacceptable and manipulative and could have been — I was scared, you know? But just the fact of any woman, if you’re walking down the street alone at night, you feel scared, and I’m not sure guys know what that [feels like].”

She turned down work that would have sexualized her as a teenager: “There was definitely a period where I was reluctant to do any kind of kissing scenes, sexual scenes. Because [for] my first roles, the reaction people would [give] in reviews [was to] call me a Lolita and things like that, and I got so scared by it. And I think that’s also got to be part of our conversation now: When you’re defensive as a woman against being looked at that way, that you’re like, ‘I don’t want to’ — what do we close off of ourselves or diminish in ourselves because we want to protect ourselves?”

The only woman on the set: “Usually you walk into a movie as the only woman, and you’re often the only woman on set. It’s very rare to have female crew members apart from hair, makeup, and wardrobe — the very stereotypical departments for women to be in — and I think women experience this in a lot of industries. If you do get the opportunity to work, you’re often the only woman in the room. I hear this from friends of mine who are lawyers, business people, writers on shows… The surprising thing is it almost feels strategic to keep you away from other women, because you don’t have the opportunity to share stories. All these accusations are like, ‘Oh yeah, everyone was isolated from each other,’ people didn’t share. They didn’t realize that there were hundreds of people with similar stories.” She added: “It prevents mentorship of women by other women because you’re just not exposed to it. You have to work hard to find and actually connect to people doing the same thing because we’re often that one seat at the table.”

Working with male directors: Pablo Larraín (Jackie), Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), and Mike Nichols (Closer, The Seagull) valued her opinions, but she once had a director snap at her, “’You’re exhausting.’ I was like, ‘I’m exhausting for telling you my opinion about my job?’ And it was completely different with male actors next to me in the same room. To the point where one of the male actors I was working with stood up for me in that meeting, because he said, ‘You know, you’re completely not listening to her and you’re completely listening to me and we’re saying almost the same thing.’”

[From Vulture]

That plane story is gross. And she’s right – even though she told him that nothing was going to happen and he respected her wishes, that’s an awful position to be in. She’s also right about how she was treated in her early days, when she was a teenager seeking roles – I remember a lot of coverage back then about what movies she wouldn’t do, like teen romances or “sexy romps” or whatever. The only part I take issue with is the idea that men in Hollywood – or men in any industry – are purposefully isolating women from each other. I don’t think it’s a conscious thing for men. That’s the bigger problem – they aren’t even aware of the fact that they’ve only got one woman in the room, nor do they realize that the one woman has been isolated. Most men don’t think that way – I truly believe that most men are just completely oblivious to those kinds of situations.

L.A. Dance Project's Annual Gala - Arrivals

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21 Responses to “Natalie Portman wonders if women are purposefully isolated on film sets”

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  1. Luca76 says:

    But her first movie The Professional is so disturbing she’s totally sexulized I wonder if that’s traumatic for her.

  2. Lulu says:

    I disagree that men are oblivious to the fact that there’s only one woman in the room. Studies have been done that show men feel they are outnumbered when there is a ratio of 30% women to 70% men. That says to me they are very aware of how many women are around them.

    • curious says:

      Agree.
      Men are used to ruling everything and so they are irritated if that one woman in a room with 10 men dares to have an opinion – let alone voice it.
      So when there are 3 women and 7 men in a room then men try to shut down women or ignore them or see them as life-threatening enemies.

    • Shirurusu says:

      Yep! I’m the only woman working with about forty guys right now and I can tell there’s a bee in their bonnet that I’m there intruding on their otherwise very crude talk around women etc – also a huge double standard in how I’m treated when I voice my opinion versus any of the guys. I’m basically labeled difficult after one comment about the work load while the guys are given a pass on almost everything. Still like most of the people though, but it’s a case of a few rotten apples spoiling an entire barrel often with this kind of behaviour. It’s infectious and people catch on. Blech. I’m so sick of it and absolutely resonate with what Natalie says about feeling defensive. I feel like a much bitchier version of myself since starting this internship and it’s for self protection.

  3. Hh says:

    I usually find her pretentious at times, but I really like everything she says here. She talks about her experiences, while applying them to women in the workplace, but not in a way that feels too generalized.

    Also, while I get the lack of women may not necessarily be done on purpose, there’s only but so much benefit of the doubt or patience to be given. There’s a difference between not knowing and not caring to know. Women have been silenced for so long that we’re pushing towards the later category.

  4. Otaku Fairy says:

    I believe her. Hopefully this won’t turn into another situation where women are being jumped on, slut-shamed, or dismissed as liars just for revealing that they haven’t been sexually abused.

    Also, this part: “There was definitely a period where I was reluctant to do any kind of kissing scenes, sexual scenes. Because [for] my first roles, the reaction people would [give] in reviews [was to] call me a Lolita and things like that, and I got so scared by it. And I think that’s also got to be part of our conversation now: When you’re defensive as a woman against being looked at that way, that you’re like, ‘I don’t want to’ — what do we close off of ourselves or diminish in ourselves because we want to protect ourselves?” So true. I think that might also need to be a part of the conversation.

  5. Tiffany says:

    I…I have no snark for what she said here.

    Must be the holiday spirit ;) .

  6. Steph says:

    They are VERY aware. My boss once told me he didn’t like to hire women because he thinks it causes a lot of drama and sh!t. I work as an engineer so most of the time I’m with male coworkers. No one has ever disrespect me but I have the advantage that my boss doesn’t yell at me like with the male coworkers. It’s a two sided coin situation.

  7. ALLY says:

    I appreciate her lucid and thoughtful comments. Amazing that by that point she was so steeped in that inappropriate culture, that the private plane incident had slipped her mind.

    Hideous how routine it all is: just a perk of being a powerful man in business — feeling free to make aggressive passes at every model or actress you come across.

  8. D says:

    It must be terrifying to have something like that happen on a private plane, there’s no escape, it’s not like you can open the door and run away.
    And this is so true – “But just the fact of any woman, if you’re walking down the street alone at night, you feel scared, and I’m not sure guys know what that [feels like].”” When I explained this to some guy friends they said – “Sometimes we’re worried about getting robbed too”, then I had to further explain that it’s not getting robbed that we’re afraid of. When I walk somewhere alone at night, every man is a potential threat and guys don’t get that.
    What is that quote? Something like “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them and women are afraid that men will kill them”.

  9. browniecakes says:

    I like what she said here, “But just the fact of any woman, if you’re walking down the street alone at night, you feel scared, and I’m not sure guys know what that [feels like].” I think that is very true. It’s a man’s world.

  10. Tiffany :) says:

    “When you’re defensive as a woman against being looked at that way, that you’re like, ‘I don’t want to’ — what do we close off of ourselves or diminish in ourselves because we want to protect ourselves?”

    Whooosh. That hit really close to home for me. I’ve played so much defense in my life, and it makes me wonder how things would have played out if I felt safer.

  11. I Choose Me says:

    Everything she had to say here resonated with me.

  12. JustJen says:

    I’ve always liked her. I was agitated when they didn’t bring her back in Thor. She sounds wise beyond her years here. That producer should be smacked in the face with his own…body part.