Natalie Portman finds it very upsetting to be part of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope

portman VF

I wanted to enjoy Vanity Fair’s new editorship/stewardship, but honestly, terrible covers and cover subjects keep getting the greenlight. Natalie Portman covers the December issue of VF, and while the profile is a decent read, the actual cover is horrendous. Are the editors choosing their covers with their eyes closed? Everything looks so cheap now. Anyway, you can read Natalie’s profile here – she’s promoting Vox Lux, but even more than that, she’s talking a lot about how the #MeToo movement changed the way she sees her place in the industry, and how it reaffirmed her commitment to making things better for all women. Some highlights:

On #MeToo: “All the stuff that’s going on, it’s this weird thing of having been in all of those environments. Like the set of Beautiful Girls—every woman in that movie has come forward…. I was able somehow not to have an experience like that, so it’s definitely a weird, privileged place to hold. Learning what so many women have been through and were going through right next to me. Ashley Judd [Portman’s co-star in both Where the Heart Is and Heat], Mira Sorvino, Uma Thurman; these were women that I admired so much and felt lucky to work with. They were super-kind to me and super-supportive, amazing role models. It was completely shocking to know that they were going through that.”

On Harvey Weinstein: While Portman had “heard the rumors about Harvey throughout the years, and took them as truth,” consequently keeping her distance, she didn’t know specifically “who it had happened to.” She learned to whom and to what degree “when everyone else did. . . . We’re in a culture where it is regular for men to behave badly and for women to be hurt,” she says, adding that men can be victims, too. “But it is a complete shift because all of us were like, ‘Oh, God, he’s a bad dude,’ and now it’s ‘No, this is abusive behavior—not just a bad dude.’ ”

Whether she’ll try to mentor younger girls coming up: “There’s a lot I feel I get from the way this upcoming generation is viewing the world, like identity definition and self-presentation to the world—all of that stuff is so different. But we’d like to give them the stuff that we have.”

Her relationship to Israel: It’s “very complicated, like family—you love it more than anything else in the world and you also are more critical of it than anything else in the world.” Last spring, there was an uproar when she declined to accept the 2018 Genesis Prize in person. “I’d like to clarify I have no issue traveling to the country. They may have issues with it now, but I don’t. I was choosing not to attend an event where I was supposed to be onstage with Prime Minister Netanyahu, sitting next to him, which felt like an endorsement. So there is a distinction.”

On stereotyping: “I was very lucky that what I was cast in wasn’t anything deliberate—serious adult fare and not child-appropriate things. But I feel like I totally ended up in female tropes, like Lolita. And clearly I was part of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl coining. I find it very upsetting to be part of that.”

[From Vanity Fair]

I think what she says about Israel and Netanyahu is really interesting – you can love Israel and defend its right to exist and the right of Israelis to live and thrive in peace, AND you can still believe that Netanyahu is a warmongering jackass who aligns himself too closely with the most fascistic elements of the American right.

As for what she says about the Manic Pixie Dream Girl label… I mean… she said yes to those scripts. She didn’t have a problem with the scripts or the roles, she has a problem with being called out for playing the trope. That being said, I’ve never found the Manic Pixie Dream Girl to be AS offensive as Random Plot Device With Boobs, you know?

Variety’s Power of Women: Los Angeles Presented by Lifetime

Photos courtesy of WENN, cover courtesy of Vanity Fair.

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53 Responses to “Natalie Portman finds it very upsetting to be part of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope”

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  1. stellalovejoydiver says:

    Actually, I find the cover to be striking. I like Natalie and I like what she says here.

    • 90sgirl says:

      The cover stopped me in my tracks, WOW, It’s Stunning. I thought is was Vogue at first. She is beautiful!

      • Birdix says:

        I like it too, but it looks like her dress is flying up because of the mighty wind she just passed…

  2. Bettyrose says:

    I love her distinction between visting her home country and endorsing a monster.

    I’m not especially troubled by the MPDG trope. Is that weird? Of all the sexist BS in Hollywood, this one is kinda, eh.

  3. Nova says:

    The cynic in me says she regrets manic pixie dream girl trope because she is too old to be offered those roles.

  4. anniefannie says:

    I love the way she describes her relationship with Israel. I have a lot of Jewish friends and when Netanyahu comes up it can feel that any criticism is somehow anti Israel, I’ll be using this analogy.

    • Wilma says:

      I always think the way to go is to support those people on both sides who want a peaceful solution. They’re still there and they’re having a pretty hard time.

  5. Here or there says:

    Meh, I don’t think she was ever a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but that’s just me.

    • FF says:

      She was MPDG in Garden State, definitely, but Closer was a good counter to that and came out the same year so I’m not seeing how she ever got seriously caught in that role. I bet most people are struggling to remember Garden State even happened. Not even Black Swan or My Blueberry Nights can get stuck in the MPDG category.

      To be honest she’s had a very lucky career because her people tried to avoid her being typecast as anything and always pushed the smart, mature girl button whenever it started to happen and got her roles as something different. And she only did Garden State because her career stalled briefly after Star Wars.

      I’m legit starting to think she’s on this feminist kick because she wants everyone to forget that she was defending and working with Polanski before all this went down. But then, her PR people are good and are pros at protecting her image, and have done for decades.

      Am I alone in thinking she’s had a pretty great range of roles for an actress her age and career span?

      • eto says:

        Isn’t Natalie the actress that got a ton of creepy & inappropriate attention from male fans in a young role and consciously chose to pursue roles that wouldn’t put her in that position again?

      • K2 says:

        Yep, Leon.

        I think when a young actor is offered roles they may not see the implications, and patterns that show up later. I can understand that.

        I really like what she says about Israel. I think that’s admirable.

    • Erinn says:

      I never thought of her as one, either. I didn’t see Garden State though, and I would have been 14 when it came out, so it wasn’t really on my radar, I guess.

      • FF says:

        @ ETO

        I think she got a lot of inappropriate attention when she was a young actress anyway but if you’re referring to Leon/The Professional then yes. That one’s still weird because the overtones a lot of people sensed on it were explicitly in the actual script at one point (google it – or not if you don’t want to be grossed out). So one of her earliest roles was Lolita-esque but she did pick parts to avoid getting stuck in that typecasting which swallowed some other actresses (Dominique Swain for example) – and said so at the time so that contributed.

    • Bella Bella says:

      I believe she is, in fact, the person who inspired the coinage of the term. And it was after Beautiful Girls, a movie that co-starred Timothy Hutton, *and* Garden State.

  6. tw says:

    She is on point regarding Israel.

  7. BANANIE says:

    I’m undecided on the cover. I like the colors of her dress and the way the light frames her face, but I can’t tell if it looks like an aesthetic decision or if it was simply the best they got from the shoot so they ran with it.

    I don’t know if Manic Pixie Dream Girl is that offensive. I don’t like the use of “manic” due to personal issues, but I feel like on the broad spectrum it isn’t that bad. It’s wrong to reduce women to some trope. But I think a lot of the complaint is people see Manic Pixie Dream Girls as weak, frivolous or trying too hard. I tend to think some girls are really just like that, kind of whimsical and in their own world. We shouldn’t think less of them.

    Totally agree about your comment about the boilerplate woman character with boobs. Seriously not okay and also lazy.

    • Bob says:

      Manic Pixie is not really about them being quirky women but characters that don’t have goals of their own

      • Keaton says:

        I thought the problem with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is that she merely functions as the male protagonist’s object of desire. That is, the film shows her as HE sees her. Everything is framed through his point of view. She really isn’t fully formed.

  8. anniefannie says:

    I too, have been disappointed in the VF makeover. Sometimes it feels the new editor is making changes for the sake of, rather than improvement.
    In particular she’s scaled back the # of pics accompanying articles and it’s waaaay less political. In this consequential year that’s inexcusable.

    • BengalCat😻 says:

      I couldn’t agree more. I’ve subscribed to VF for years, but the covers look cheap af and the articles are bland. Will not be renewing this year.

    • BearcatLawyer says:

      Same. The new layout is appalling, and the stories not nearly as gripping. I will still subscribe, but only in the hope there is a regime change soon.

      • bros says:

        I agree. I loved loved loved VF and now they got this terrible new editor who just keeps including PC fluff and the biting nuance that used to make up much of its political coverage is gone and it just feels like she is trying to make it way more identity politics than it used to be. a symptom of our modern politics.

        it;s the only magazine I subscribe to and normally read it cover to cover and now I am three issues behind because some of the magic has definitely gone out of it. It’s like she’s some corporate version of an editor. all safety and lawsuit averse.

  9. Izzy says:

    “I think what she says about Israel and Netanyahu is really interesting – you can love Israel and defend its right to exist and the right of Israelis to live and thrive in peace, AND you can still believe that Netanyahu is a warmongering jackass…”

    Except we can’t, not really. As a Jew, I have felt unsafe the last two years saying I support Israel because I get called things like “Nazi.” We’re told we can’t participate in certain marches unless we denounce Israel – how many other religions are forced to pass this litmus test before they can participate in rallies on behalf of social justice causes. The Women’s March has chosen to align itself with a virulent anti-Semite who recently compared Jews to termites. I have even seen comments on this site’s comment boards.

    I have never felt less safe to be a Jew. We are unwelcome on the left and the right. Most synagogues have had security long before last weekend. A security fee is actually built into our annual URJ dues. My friends and I have had our own social justice movement meetings over the last couple of years. We meet in secret. Welcome to being Jewish. It feels like 1936.

    I am angry and I am scared. And I don’t understand why it’s “interesting” that we should support Israel’s right to exist – do you denounce all of America when you denounce Trump and his policies? The hypocrisy is astounding.

    • Mabs A'Mabbin says:

      You’re absolutely right. Simply despising half the voters shouldn’t negate the whole. People tend to allow cherry-picking when laying out personal beliefs and environments, and then in the same breath, condemn entire countries when assigning blame through stereotyping its citizens. I’m so sorry you’re going through this. I can’t possibly imagine how you truly feel living each day. I’ve always complained in anger how our current climate reminds of decades-old mentalities, but as a white woman how could I possibly know beyond my education? I can’t. It hurts my heart. My eyes well. It’s hard to breathe, and yet it doesn’t reside anywhere close to your experience. But I am hearing you. I’m listening.

    • styla says:

      I’m not Jewish but I have to let you know that I agree with everything you said. I can see the Jewish reality from the outside and I’d be scared too if I was a Jew. Most people don’t know if you have an Israeli stamp in your passport… not even being from Israel… you will be denied entry into several countries. There is definitely a silent campaign out there designed to erase Israelis from existence. I stand in solidarity with you!

      • Xi Tang says:

        The only people that are been erased from history are Palestinians. I used to live in israel because of my dad’s job and what they teach us is that before 1948 the land was filled with basically barbarians who didn’t work or read. There are thousands of books written by israelis completly erasing any mention of Palestinian living there.

    • BorderMollie says:

      Denouncing the violent military occupation of a people, be they Palestinian or any other indigenous group, is a standard position if you’re on the left though. Israel occupies the land and lives of millions of people in Palestine, and it’s just heinous and ugly. You are absolutely not required to answer for the worst deeds of any country, and you can support Israel (or Canada and America) without supporting violence against indigenous people of course, but if you support military occupation or war anywhere then yes most on the left (though probably not the right) would turn away.

      • Rulla says:

        Thank you, Bordermollie.

      • Izzy says:

        Jews lived in that land for thousands of years before they were forced out by the Romans who renamed it Palaestina, so when you refer to indigenous people, you should look at the actual history first. Jews have been forced out of every country they were forced into, or just denied entry into it. So yeah, they restored a small sliver of land to us after the Nazis tried to systematically exterminate us while the rest of the world looked the other way unbothered by it.

        Having said all that, a peaceful coexistence is the only way forward ultimately. That land is meaningful to three major world religions. If we don’t all start playing nice together in the sandbox, the sandbox will end up completely destroyed.

      • BorderMollie says:

        Modern nation states with laws to favor one ethnic group are a European colonial notion from the 18th century though, to say nothing of Israel’s settlements that appropriate land and water from the local indigenous population. I agree about peace but believe it should be through one state with equal rights and equal access to resources for everyone.

        And being hurt yourself doesn’t justify hurting others.

      • Whitecat says:

        Izzy, you are correct that Jews lived there thousands of years ago, but many in fact converted to Christianity and islam, and some were forcibly so. However some did not revert back to Judaism, like my family. My ancestors were Jewish peasants from Samaria who forcibly converted as they could not afford to leave as their city dweller brethren. Many many Palestinians have the same history, so it’s important to remember that many Palestinians share the ancestry of Jewish people as well. I’m palestinian-German who grew up in Jerusalem by the way (who also has Ashkenazi ancestry too), and all my life i have been treated unequally by the Israeli government compared to my Jewish friends and allies. And that’s the heart of it (even tho we were the same people 2000 years ago).

        Bordermollie is completely correct that the concept of nation-state is a colonial European invention. The fact that I have the same ancestors as you Izzy, yet I am treated unequally in the same country due to my ‘current’ identity is proof of this. But it is strange because ethnically I don’t think many are ‘pure’ so the concept of nation state based on ethnicity makes no sense (I am really a genetic mutt, hence why I believe in other values and a civic based nationality which does not exist in israel).

      • diana says:

        Thanks bordermollie, xitang and whitecat.

        Another thing to keep in mind about israel is that it doesn’t have electoral vote. The reason netanyahu is in power for so many years is because the majorty of people in israel elects him. Unlike say the US, there’s a majority of israelis that supports the crimes of their government.

      • Helen says:

        agree with everything bordermollie says in this thread.

    • Imaan says:

      The amount of non-Jews lecturing a Jew how to feel (a week after a deadly, targeted attack against American Jews, no less) in this thread is incredible and highlights what Izzy said. I’m an Arab from the Levant – I have no affection for Israel, but I do have a desire to see peace in my native region and a peaceful co-existence between all our native religions, something that will not happen unless we all turn a page away from violence, misplaced righteousness and terror as well as realise that Israel is not going to disappear not matter how hard some of my brethren may believe that this will one day happen. It’s here and will stay – how can we now make things better and stop the violence?

      But that’s beyond the point of what Izzy brought up. The smug, patting on the back hypocrisy that is evident in the replies to her original point (of how she feels threatened in her own country and this has made her think about the concept of Israel) alongside more pushing of that tired old “Good Jew, Bad Jew” – they voted for Netanyahu! They are all complicit! – trope aimed at a non-Israeli western Jewish person for merely stating the complexity of their relationship with Israel at a time when their community is under attack is very misplaced.

      This is not an abstract thought experiment for Izzy as it may be for some of you – she feels legitimately threatened and cast out of so-called “polite society”, as do many Jews, for merely being Jews, and the best some can offer as succour is a self-satisfied purr about why Israel shouldn’t exist and shouldn’t comfort expelled/exiled Jews while typing from your own comfortable unthreatened pockets of “stolen” land.

  10. ReeseSmith89 says:

    If only she kept her distance from roman polanski.

  11. lucy2 says:

    That’s a terrible photo, but the dress looks like a seashell, it’s interesting.
    I never saw her as the MPDG type, not sure why not, but I’m guessing her “taking those roles” happened because there wasn’t much else available for women her age.
    @ReeseSmith, she actually has stated regret for signing that petition. As far as I know, she’s the only one who has done so.

  12. Steff says:

    First thought, my god VF need to sort out their new look. I could pick better font for a power point presentation. And where is she? A parking lot?

    I thought Garden State was making fun of the MPDG trope because Natalie’s character was so over the top twee, but they weren’t. It’s a movie of it’s time and definitely did not age well. There were MPDG’s way before Garden State but her character was like the ultimate example of one.

  13. Giddy says:

    Regarding the cover, the dress is gorgeous. But I feel like I can guess the directions that the photographer was calling out to her: “Give me bitchy, really cold. Now look like you hate everyone. Thats it! Keep that look of disdain! Remember that you’re better than others! Perfect!”

    • bros says:

      the head styling and the lip and the face do not go at all with the dress. and it makes her head/neck look really squat instead of her normal lithesome face and neck. TERRIBLE.

  14. Spreee says:

    Emily deschanel is what comes to mind when I think of that “trope”

  15. perplexed says:

    I don’t know if she specifically fits the Manic Pixie Dream girl trope (people seem to have differences of opinion about this), but she’s always been an idealized vision of womanhood for men (and not necessarily a highly complicated version of it, but extremely ideal), so in some sense I think all of her roles have fit some kind of strange archetype. Even the Black Swan character had a certain fragility and idealization attache3d to the craziness. I don’t think she’s ever actively tried to avoid this idealization, and until recently enjoyed being seen as a kind of vision for men (even in the media). I really can’t tell if she’s being sincere or not because I think she’s generally come across as being the conduit through which men find themselves (even in that email exchange with the married novelist whom she had no interest in).

    Like most people, she uses what she has an advantage to get what she needs in the moment. And I’m sure in the future she’ll continue to the same. I’m surprised she can’t admit that.

    (To be fair to her, I think the only way she could have avoided any of those archetypes is to drop out of acting, which I don’t think is realistic, but she definitely gives off the vibe of enjoying being admired by men in some kind of capacity. Either that, or maybe she’s not talented enough to bring other qualities to her roles. I’m not sure which it is because she’s not an actively bad actress but I don’t think she’s as good as people claim ether. She gets the job done passably, I think, which results in the limitations of how we perceive some of her characters.).

    • ZGB says:

      “but she definitely gives off the vibe of enjoying being admired by men in some capacity”
      And that is a bad thing? The amount of psychoanalysis we apply on celebrities is astounding! Lots of projection going on. I wonder how we’d feel to be subjected to that level of scrutiny, it sometimes feels so intimate, it’s uncomfortable. I’ve observed this about this site, this is not a character, but a human being. It’s okay to desire to be admired in one form or the other; it could be for our intellect, our proficiency in language, our competence in a field or our body, the fitness, dedication and strength aspect. All humans want to be desired, even if you choose to isolate yourself from society for whatever reason.

      I can understand your criticism about her acting. I haven’t seen enough of her work be counter or agree( at the end, it’s all subjective anyway). But of what I’ve seen, I like. I thought she was adorable as Jane Foster on Thor. It was sort of a rediscovery as I thought I was watching The Natalie Portman I had heard about, till I googled and discovered I had watched her as a child in Leon and Star Wars( which is famously not a good connection). I thought she deserved her nomination( not sure if she worn, correct me if I’m wrong) for Black Swan. I look forward to watching V for Vendetta and Closer with Clive yummy Owen.

  16. terra says:

    As an atheist raised in a vaguely Christian household (my family describe themselves as Christian, but I never went to church a single time with my family, ever) I don’t feel I have anything substantive to offer to the Israel conversation that wouldn’t just be a re-tread of things people with far more insight than I have already said a thousand times.

    That being said, I see loving Israel and wanting to see it survive is rather akin to how I as, an American, feel about America, especially right now. I felt deeply ashamed of my country’s actions during the George W. Bush years (nevermind the couple of years I felt I was being stalked by Barabra Bush – she was everywhere I went for quite a while, I swear!), but the past several years things have taken on a new urgency, a new horror.

    I love my country, I want to see it move out of the pit we seem to have fallen into. I can love it and be horrified at it’s so-called “leadership,” be deeply ashamed of the image we’re portraying to the world at large. To act as if Israelis and Jews, in general, shouldn’t be allowed to have their own mixed feelings is deeply hypocritical. I won’t blindly follow and accept what is being done here and I would never deny the citizens of other countries the same right.

    TL;DR? Censorship is censorship, full stop. Resistance is not futile, it’s required.

    • BorderMollie says:

      As a Canadian, I too understand the feeling. It’s hard for me to face my country’s history as its full of horrors that can’t just be dismissed as ‘complicated’. However, I also know I fully need to do so in order for us as a nation to move forward as a truly equal and free place. It’s the same for Israel and any other country. To reconcile a dark past, we have to face it first.

      • terra says:


        Oh, definitely. America has a horrifying history. It’s quite literally a country built by people who left England to practice their religion without comment and then once they were established turned to the Native Americas who helped them survive their first years here and said, ‘you’re worshipping incorrectly, you heathens, do it this way or we’ll kill you.’

        Governments do terrible things that generations to come will still find themselves paying for. I don’t have to hate an entire race of people to feel that way. I feel that way about my own government. I’ve watched people who’ve fled North Korea under deplorable conditions talk about wanting to return to the place of their birth one day, wanting there to be a brighter future one day.

        It’s not treason to think that a country can do better. Indeed, we *owe it* to our countries to never stop desiring progress, to never cease pushing for a better standard of living for everyone. People talk about ‘the good old days,’ but I challenge anyone to tell me exactly when those supposed days were. There is always room to grow.

  17. Meg says:

    I wonder if like me natalie was so accustomed to ‘manic pixie dream girl’ characters in movies she didn’t realize they were so sexist until it was pointed out to her, because it was her normal? As a preteen I was disappointed that guys didn’t show interest in me and into my teens that didn’t seem to change. I became more shy because I was embarrassed, I felt rejected, then I saw tons of ‘manic pixie dream girl’ characters in movies and the male protagonist was affected by them as opposed to the guys who looked right past me so I thought that was what I was supposed to be in order to be ‘good enough’ for guys to notice me to date. Screwed up messages! If a young woman of that age said that to the 34 year old me today I’d interrupt and scream about how screwed up that is.
    How many men have I engaged with in life who act like I’m there for them, they shouldn’t have to consider my time, schedule, feelings, etc. What I wore that day must have been for them so I don’t have the right to complain at their leering looks or harassing comments. They get these messages from films and the people who raised them as well.

    • perplexed says:

      I think she may not have noticed because she benefitted from it in an extreme way, She was lauded and praise for embodying a certain ideal. I also think she’s the type of person who enjoys praise so she may not have questioned it much. It’s only after she’s gotten what she wanted from something that she calls it out (i.e she wanted that Oscar pretty badly, but then said it was a “false idol” after getting it. She’s not wrong In her assessment of the Oscar, but she really, really wanted it!).

  18. Justjj says:

    I feel like she’s calling out the trope not saying she doesn’t like being called out for it. I find it offensive. It’s just another way to put women in the delicate flower box and diminish their autonomy, intelligence, and strength, in my opinion. MPDG is never a good look. And honestly, when I see grown women trying to embody it-I think white lady yoga and wine culture and woo woo chakra diets or whatever, for example, are a huge demographic/market that does this in recent years-I cringe. So many things for women to be besides MPDGs. Ugh.

  19. Alyse Leitao says:

    Natalie herself was never the MPDG, but her character in Garden State was always noted as being one of the definitive characters of that trope – so that’s where that’s coming from.

    The problem with those characters (Penny Lane forever!!!!) wasn’t them so much as their role in film being one to only serve the male leads needs. Arguably the role of 90% of women in film though….