Natalie Portman on signing the pro-Polanski petition: ‘I very much regret it’

Los Angeles premiere of 'Annihilation'

Natalie Portman is still promoting Annihilation, the film where her character is supposed to be mixed-race Asian, according to the source material. We discussed the issue last week – Asian-American advocacy groups were pissed off that yet another film had been whitewashed, and Native-American activists also have a problem with Jennifer Jason Leigh’s casting too (her character was supposed to be Native American). To be fair, in the first book of a trilogy, Portman’s character isn’t described in physical terms, and Annihilation is based on the first book. Natalie only found out about the whitewashing during the promotion last week. Now that she’s had a few days to think about it, she has more to say, about whitewashing, Roman Polanski and a lot more. You can read her Buzzfeed interview here. Some highlights:

Finding out her character had been whitewashed: “Yeah, it felt terrible. This is the thing: There’s a very big problem of representation in Hollywood, and I have very strong feelings about it. 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. And it’s really unfortunate, and was a surprise to me for sure. And I think we live in a post-Hamilton world where we don’t even need to think about what’s authentic to the character, like faithful to the character. It should just be that everyone can empathize with everyone. And also going against a horrible history of over-seeing white actors and under-seeing otherized people and minorities.

The moment at the Golden Globes when she said “the all-male nominees”:
“I discussed with some of the women I’ve been working with that they had offered to me to present the director category, but 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. You don’t want to not recognize them. It’s just, why aren’t we recognizing the people who aren’t part of this exclusive club? So one of the women recommended I say that, and it felt like stating something that was true.

How she feels about signing the Polanski petition in 2009: “I very much regret it. I take responsibility for not thinking about it enough. 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.

Believe women: “I think there’s a direct connection between believing women about their own experience and allowing women to be experts of their own experience and every woman’s voice being heard. Whether it’s someone talking about their work and not being listened to, or someone talking about their own experience of assault and being told that they don’t know what they’re talking about, I think there’s a direct connection between that. Of course, do I know anyone’s experience? No. But would I question a man who said “someone stabbed me”? Never! You know? I think it’s bizarre. We know that women are systematically not listened to. That victims of sexual assault are systematically not listened to.

[From Buzzfeed]

I don’t really have a problem with what she says here, and she raises many good points, and I believe she’s trying. I wasn’t going to see Annihilation in theaters anyway, so it’s not like I can “boycott” the film because of the representation issues.

I do want to point out one thing to Portman, and this is just one thing that struck me, and she may need to work on in the future. The part where she says “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 know what she’s saying, and every piece of art doesn’t have to be all things to all people, and every piece of art doesn’t have to have representations of every single marginalized group at all times. But there were very specific criticisms lodged at this film from Asian-American groups and Native American activists regarding the whitewashing from the source material to the screen, and Natalie’s making a very white-feminist argument of “well, isn’t it just great to have so many WOMEN in the film” and “well, there’s a black woman and a Hispanic woman in the cast, so we filled our quota.” I’m not saying she’s just ScarJoing this sh-t, but when you’re telling marginalized communities who have very specific complaints that they should just be grateful that (white) women are in the film, or that other marginalized groups are represented, that’s not a great argument. “Lucy Liu could have been cast in the lead role?” “Yeah but we cast Sofia Vergara in a supporting role, so it’s cool!”

Los Angeles premiere of 'Annihilation'

Photos courtesy of WENN.

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47 Responses to “Natalie Portman on signing the pro-Polanski petition: ‘I very much regret it’”

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  1. Hh says:

    I will say in her defense, that it is increasingly infuriating that actors/actresses are having to be the mouthpieces and scapegoats for decisions made by studios, directors, and production companies. They have to continually defend why they accepted an opportunity as opposed to asking the right people how wide of a net did they actually cast for this role. This is not to defend those actors who simply dismiss diversity, but I can see that Natalie is trying/attempting to learn.

    • African Sun says:

      I respect your comments on here and always look for them. I think you make some really good points but we need to hold the Natalies of Hollywood accountable.

      She really charged hard against John Galliano when that whole scandal happened. She should have gone OFF on Woody Allen as well.

      • FLORC says:

        I’m with you on this. Both loving HH’s comments and agreeing Portman gets no pass.
        She signed blindly. Trusting the opinion of another on a matter of an adult raping a child. She’s no fool. She should have researched it herself. And certainly should have realized this sooner in the years since signed. Only now she’s admitting it. And I do appreciate that. I’m just not forgetting her ignorance willfully. And how she’s spoken many, many times to defend him. And her benefits from it.

        All that said…. really glad this was addressed.

      • HH says:

        I agree that we need to hold them accountable. This was certainly not to excuse Natalie. However, I think we need to allow people room to grow if they own up to prior mistakes.

      • Bridget says:

        @African Sun: but Natalie (and Meryl for applauding him) are being held accountable more than pretty much anyone else. It’s not “Also”.

      • perplexed says:

        I think Meryl has been held accountable by the media to some extent. I think Natalie is only discussed on blogs in comments sections. I don’t really think she gets criticized in the media. I’ve seen Meryl called to task — Natalie, not so much, if at all.

        I’ll be honest though — I do think Meryl is kind of weird for her love of Roman Polanski. Something isn’t right there. She goes on about whenever she’s been asked about him. Yikes, it’s bizarre. It’s not normal to love a guy like that that much, No one is perfect and I don’t expect Meryl Streep to be, but she is selective when it comes to this kind of issue.

        In Natalie’s case, I’m willing to believe she might really have been that…, naive? Stupid? Lame? Not fully functioning when reading words on a piece of paper that’s handed to her? Meryl actually seems like she might think Roman Polanski is a….good person (ew).

      • Otaku Fairy says:

        Agree with Bridget. It’s good that Natalie is at least big enough to apologize for it though instead of not even addressing it. Nobody who signed a petition for or defended Polanski and others can undo what they did years ago, but they can take responsibility for it, apologize, and do better moving forward.

      • Bridget says:

        By the way, I think it’s interesting that you brought up Galliano and his Hitler comments considering that Polanski is a Holocaust survivor himself.

      • No, we shouldn’t be holding actresses (actors are rarely asked these kinds of hardball questions) accountable for studio decisions… but I WILL hold them accountable for not asking responsible questions prior to casting (if that is the case), and not publicly acknowledging the issues when raised.

        I’ve always appreciated it when an actor or actress was in a shit film, and admitted, “Yeah, that didn’t work out.” Or “Yeah, it was pretty craptastic,” and never saw it as disloyalty toward his/her employers, and coworkers. If something didn’t work, why lie about it? To dupe moviegoers into spending their hard-earned cash on a shit film before word gets out? It sucks.

        Well, this is similar…

        BUT SO MUCH WORSE. When an actor or actress makes light of a character being whitewashed, they’re selling the idea that commercial whitewashing isn’t worth talking about, and that’s infuriating.

        They become the spokesperson for a decision the studio made, all on their own.

    • lucy2 says:

      I agree – the root of the problem is the people making these decisions.

      I can’t understand how she or anyone supported Polanski, but I’m really glad to hear her admitting it was a terrible things and she regrets it. There has to be room for people to acknowledge faults and try to do better.

  2. Bridget says:

    I find it interesting that we place so much blame on a few signatories of that petition, but never ask – “who were the ones knowingly passing it around?”. Portman being asked the question was long overdue, but there were people actively campaigning for their friend. Who were they? Who was the power behind it?

    • perplexed says:

      I was curious about that too.

      I also want to know why people would sign a petition without knowing more about the facts, especially if you’re Harvard-educated. The fact that a person would just sign anything seems weird to me. She knows it was a stupid decision, but she’s lauded a lot for her intelligence, so in my mind it is kind of a strange mistake to make. I guess it’s the idea of simply saying “Sure, okay,” without thinking about what you’re signing seems really odd to me. Plus everyone knew he’d done something strange with a THIRTEEN year old. Even if you don’t know what he actually did, that girl was super young and there’s no way she could have consented to a guy who was FORTY-TWO.

      • Scram says:

        I don’t understand it either, but it seems pretty common especially when the request is coming from someone trusted. Emma Thompson, or someone else, gave a similar explanation.

      • Bridget says:

        If it was someone you knew and trusted, and knowing how proud you are of your Jewish faith played up the fact that he’s a Holocaust survivor, I get it. I don’t think she should be absolved, but I think that she gets far more flak thrown her way than almost any other signatory.

      • perplexed says:

        ” but I think that she gets far more flak thrown her way than almost any other signatory.”

        I think that might be because she’s considered relatively intelligent. We expect more from smart people. Her image is based on being a very smart woman, not simply a pretty one. We have been told time and time again by the media that she’s not your average starlet and is apart from the rest of the crowd because of her intelligence.

    • LAK says:

      Bridget: It was Harvey. He actively led the campaign to restore Polanski. The petition was part of his campaign.We know how far-reaching his tentacles were, and what an effective campaigner he is. He managed to turn the argument away from the details of the crime to semantics about the judge and the judiciary system. He also downplayed the fact that Polanski had absconded any potential punishment and was living a cushy life in France. It was all the judge’s fault and not at all a crime or the fact that Polanski had skipped and never served any punishment except being confined to France.

      Perplexed: i never understand that. Then again i’ve met so many people who sign things without reading them and or understanding what they are signing and then crying trickery after the fact.

      And yes, without knowing the full details, 13yrs old vs 42yrs old is enough to trigger the bat signal.

      • Bridget says:

        It wasn’t just Harvey, though. Polanski had some high profile friends. If I remember correctly, it was Mike Leigh who asked Emma Thompson to sign, and I always figured he was the one who asked Natalie as well (she’d known him for a long time).

      • Mia4s says:

        Not exactly @LAK and @Bridget. Yes Weinstein was a big part of it and published some ridiculous op ed piece. But you really think Natalie and Emma Thompson would have signed for Harvey? No.

        It was Mike Nichols. The director and Diane Sawyer’s husband (and ironically, very close friend of Mia and Ronan Farrow). Emma stated Mike asked her to sign and Natalie was extremely close to him. This is a VERY tangled web and people will make hypocritical choices based on what/who they know and what/who they think they know. It’s very human.

      • Bridget says:

        I think I got Nichols and Leigh mixed up, because that was definitely who I was referencing. He and Natalie were so close that she was willing to get naked for him for Closer.

        I wonder who Mike Leigh is?

      • LAK says:

        I didn’t mean to imply that it was only Harvey. Mike Nichols was the original instigators. Ditto Jack Nicholson who had spent years trying to get the charges dropped, but it took off because of Harvey. He campaigned for it like it was one of his Oscar campaigns, and it snowballed with his efforts.

        Bridget: Mike Leigh is an acclaimed director of British kitchen sink dramas. Personally i dislike those types of films, but he gave us the gem that is SECRETS AND LIES.

  3. Des says:

    I’m not a fan of Natalie “I became a prima ballerina in 5 months” Portman by any means, but I don’t think she was trying to patronize WOC. I think it might have come off that way because she has an insufferable air about her but she meant that before the whitewashing issue came up, she was happy to see a diverse cast of women on her film. And then she found out that her role ought to have gone to a WOC.

    About that though – somebody ask the author why they didn’t bother getting in touch with the production and giving them a head’s up.

    • emilybyrd says:

      I think Natalie tries. She seems to care somewhat about diversity and making sure women’s voices are respected. And I appreciate that she admitted that signing the Polanski petition is a mistake. That’s tough to do. But I also think she’s one of those people who talks, talks, talks all the time about how things should be better, people should be better–without demonstrating the personal integrity to back up all the talk. I remember when she and the Black Swan people were campaigning hard during oscars season. And I remember that they very willfully misled people into thinking that Natalie had done most (if not all) of her dancing in the film. She should have spoken up in the middle of all that to clear things up, but she didn’t. It’s wrong to take credit for someone else’s dancing if it’s not you and your body in the bulk of those difficult dance scenes. That’s pretty basic, when it comes to integrity. And then, when Natalie gets the best actress oscar for supposedly transforming into a professional ballet dancer within a few months, not too long afterwards, I remember she gave some strange interview where she disparaged the award, claiming that it was a “false idol.” Like she’s above caring whether she got the award in the first place. Please. That was the height of disingenuousness for me. Ever since then, I’ve seen her as just a regular person, out to protect her career, her own self-interest. Not an especially good person or a bad one.

  4. African Sun says:

    Her new film looks good, even with the controversy.

    Natalie gets tonnes of passes. I’m not giving her one here. She’s not an android, she can think for herself and make her own decision instead of passing the back on someone she ‘respected’.

    Anyone remember her in ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ – She was ridiculously good in that. That performance makes me want to see her new film.

    • Jayna says:

      She was really good in The Other Boleyn Girl, I agree.

    • LAK says:

      That film didn’t do the book justice. I blame the director. Until then he had only directed tea time dramas. He made the film about Anne and her relationship with Henry where the book tells the story from Mary’s POV such that Anne is a support character.

      Further, the book is more concerned with the politics of the era and the court rather than the romantic entanglements and how families like the Boleyns manipulated the king in a game that turned out deadly for all of them.

      The film turned all that into a romantic drama about Anne and the King. And it ignores Anne’s personal journey until the very end when she suddenly becomes aware of the danger she is in. It also includes a rape that wasn’t in the book.

      In 2003 the BBC made a tv miniseries of the book starring Jodhi May and Natasha McElhorne which was much better.

      I’m usually a big supporter of reinterpretation of books to film, but in this case, i don’t think they did a good job.

      ELIZABETH (1998) starring Cate Blanchett does a fabulous job at recreating the politics of the era.

  5. perplexed says:

    Didn’t she work with Roman Polanski too?

  6. perplexed says:

    “We lived in a different world, and that doesn’t excuse anything.”

    Huh. Okay. Wasn’t this petition being passed around in 2009? I don’t remember it being considered normal for a 42 year old to be “associated” with a 13 year old.

  7. OG OhDear says:

    Perhaps I am being cynical here, but I get the sense that she’s saying this (the Polanski apology) in part to get people to back off from criticizing her supporting TimesUp while having signed the petition. Of course, if she’s sincere, that’s great and let’s move on. However, she says all those nice things about taking responsibility and then includes comments on how “The thing I feel like I gained from it is empathy towards people who have made mistakes.” which makes it sound like she wants people to feel bad for her.

    • perplexed says:

      “The thing I feel like I gained from it is empathy towards people who have made mistakes.””

      I thought that part of her statement sounded strange too, but I couldn’t put my finger on why.

      • ParlerBleu says:

        “The thing I feel like I gained from it is empathy towards people who have made mistakes.”

        I actually thought she was referring to Polanski with this quote. Polanski was presented as some sympathetic figure because he survived the Holocaust and his wife and unborn child were murdered by serial killers. His supporters used that as some kind of defense of or justification for his unfathomably cruel and heinous crime.

        Yes, hurt people HURT PEOPLE, but there are also countless examples of people who survive the unimaginable and go on to lead extraordinary lives with compassion and a sense of duty to their fellow human beings. I’m thinking of the professor at UVA who survived the Holocaust only to die protecting students from a mass shooting 10+ years ago.

        We can have compassion for people who make mistakes, but when those mistakes involve raping children, it is essential to hold such folks accountable and not turn a blind eye because they “had a hard life.”

  8. ash says:

    as long and studios, script writers, and ACTORS/ACTRESSES dont do their homework…. they will continue to take Ls

    Ill see the film when it comes to netflix or whatev…. white and male centered hollywood is in its death throes right now and its honestly hilarious.

  9. WendyNerd says:

    Here’s the thing: there’d still be women in this film if they were not white! It would still be female representation!

    • ParlerBleu says:

      Yeah, it is weird how a lot of white women don’t seem to understand that most women in the world aren’t white! That is unchecked privilege for you.

  10. perplexed says:

    She’s good in some things (er, ballet movies, I guess), but anytime I see her in a film that’s likely to be a franchise, I assume she’s going to be bad in it. If the studio wanted to go with a white actress, I do question why they went with her — my go-to assumption when I see her in a “big” movie is that I’m going to fall asleep. In this case, it looks like (some?) people really didn’t know the main character was not supposed to be white. But if they wanted a white actress, I feel they could have gone with a more interesting one. When I see Natalie I don’t automatically think: “Yes, box-office draw!” She’s very pretty, but she’s a good cure for insomnia sometimes.

  11. Ytbtet says:

    Off topic but how tall is Natalie? Gina and her are both listed as 5’3 but she looks a lot shorter

  12. Anon says:

    Good that she apologised but if the person who she respected told her to jump of a building would she do that too? For someone who used to go on about how smart she is how does she equate child rape with sign a petition to free a rapist? Plus working with Roman Polanski too. I can understand if all this happened after she worked with him but this was not case. To me she is only answering this question because she is a face for Timesup and wants to avoid looking like a hypocrite. If Timesup never came about she would not have addressed this.

  13. SuzyQ says:

    Nope. She wasn’t a kid. No excuse for Polanski.
    The Allen thing was much muddier, especially back then and she was young.
    I don’t like people who play both sides of the fence or which ever way the wind blows.

  14. perplexed says:

    “And I think we live in a post-Hamilton world where we don’t even need to think about what’s authentic to the character, like faithful to the character. It should just be that everyone can empathize with everyone.

    I’m slightly confused by what she’s saying here.

    • ParlerBleu says:

      Yeah, me too. I honestly don’t think she knows exactly what she is talking about. This statement seems to be a few partially formed thoughts of someone with white privilege who hasn’t really thought too deeply about these issues because they don’t really affect her unless she is being asked about them on a press tour.

      I think Natalie needs to do some more thinking and empathizing before she speaks on these issues again.

    • Ksenia says:

      I think she’s trying to say that (post Hamilton, with its multi-racial cast, even though they are all representing historically white men and women) movie characters should not be based on the race of historical figures or literary characters. Therefore, we should be able to have a black or Asian James Bond, a Latino Heidi, a Native American Helen of Troy, or a multiracial cast of Harry Potter. She’s implying that since everyone is human, we can all empathize w anyone, of every race, so the race of our movie characters should not matter, and should not ubiquitously be white. (I THINK that’s what she’s saying, though that was quite a salad of words that Miss “Eating Meat is like Rape” spewed out!

    • Silent Star says:

      Hmm, it sounds like she’s trying to say that we shouldn’t see color. Which is not something I think a white person is in any position to say.

  15. manta says:

    Well she’s a girl whose parents and handlers had no problem to make work with Luc Besson when she was just a kid.
    A guy who, at the time was married to a teen ( Maïwenn) he met when she was 15, married when she was 16. She gave birth to their daughter shy of her 17th birthday.
    I think we underestimate what these child stars navigate through, even the smartest ones and what they’re exposed to at a young age and what is acceptable in the cesspool that is their work environment.

    • perplexed says:

      She said recently that she had decided to stay away from more sexual material after the strange letters and reviews she received from being in Leon. Because she didn’t like that kind of strange attention, I figured she might have thought it was just as strange for Roman Polanski to have been linked to a 13 year old.

      • ParlerBleu says:

        That is a good point @perplexed. She made a conscious decision as a 13-year-old to modify her behavior (which she shouldn’t have had to do) to avoid creepy, pedophilic sexual attention from creepers. But as a grown-ass, 27-year-old adult she didn’t think twice about signing a petition to free a man who admitted to raping a 13-year-old?

        SMH, that is some cognitive dissonance right there.

  16. perplexed says:

    I realize she and others are making attempts to correct mistakes of the past, but I can’t tell if they’d be doing it if public sentiment wasn’t influencing their decisions. A lot of them seem easily swayed; someone respected asks them to sigh a petition, they do it. The public is telling them loudly a decade later that this kind of behaviour has to stop: they finally agree with the public. Granted, the latter just happens to be the morally correct choice, but would they be smart enough to come to that choice if the public wasn’t yelling at them? When she and others signed the petition, did they not have the ability to think on their own? How strong is group-think? Is peer pressure that strong even among adults?

    I think it’s just the “naivete” or something I don’t get. I don’t think she has to keep getting slammed because she signed the petition, but because she’s Harvard-educated, I’ll admit I wonder how people of her intelligence think until the public backlash gets too strong. It’s just more the thought process that I”m curious about rather than simply finding a reason to slam her.

  17. BKittyB says:

    I don’t like the energy around her statements. Specifically: “And I think we live in a post-Hamilton world where we don’t even need to think about what’s authentic to the character, like faithful to the character. It should just be that everyone can empathize with everyone. ” She tried to clean up what she was saying, with overseeing white actors and underseeing actors of color but sometimes roles SHOULD be true to the character. Imagine a non-black actor playing Kunta Kente. Regardless of how amazing that person might be, the story is lost. There are plenty of amazing actors that can fit the bill for whatever a role calls for — her statement seems to imply that race should not be a factor. To me this statement is foolish and contradictory . We live in what is and not in what should be. We cannot just focus on talent. We must sometimes be true to the characters in order to tell the story. I don’t pat her on the back, because she’s directly benefitting from the role and from a whitewashing legacy.And talking about what should be or glossing over things to talk about women makes me like her even less.