Natalie Portman: ‘I think it’s a mistake to think of humanity as evolving’

Megan Rapinoe is all smiles as she holds the trophy after winning the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup

Natalie Portman covers the September issue of Harper’s Bazaar, mostly to promote her new film Lucy in the Sky, which is a fictional take on an astronaut who goes into space, returns to earth and proceeds to lose touch with reality. The film is loosely based on the true story of astronaut Lisa Nowak and the 2007 incident where she drove halfway across the country to kill a woman she considered a romantic rival. I wonder if there was an issue with the life rights, or whether the filmmakers thought it would be in poor taste to just do the real story using everybody’s real names. Anyway, Natalie mostly chats about her life, anti-Semitism, feminism and the power of a woman’s anger. You can read the full piece here. Some highlights:

The Holocaust is only a few generations past: “My great-grandparents were killed in the camps, and my grandfather’s younger brother was shot in Poland during the war.”

The rise of the same kind of fascistic ideologies today: “This also has to do with our mistaken belief in progress. Life is not like a novel…[With a beginning and a middle and an end] I think it’s a mistake to think of humanity as evolving. You want to believe it, for sure, but it’s more like cycles of violence. Yet we’ve had an extraordinary lifetime of peace, too, so it’s allowed us to live in this belief that progress is being made.”

She loves what Maria Grazia Chiuri is doing at Dior: “It’s wonderful to have a woman designing for other women, someone who understands us, and knows that maybe we might want to wear a T-shirt with a skirt and flats, or have pockets in our dresses… If a woman can’t breathe in her dress, what does that mean? It’s the most literal symbol of oppression that you could possibly have – it’s so political.”

Loving fashion in a dark timeline: “I love beauty and I love glamour, and they can be part of the sweetness of life in the face of really dark things – and that has great worth.”

On beauty: “As a woman, you are constantly fighting against only being valued for your looks, because it becomes a very tenuous thing, to be defined by the gaze of others, the opinion of others. And beauty is, by definition, ephemeral, it’s a thing that you can’t trap in time, it’s a butterfly, it lives for a second. So to make a lifetime worthwhile and have meaning cannot rest on beauty…”

She loves Rebecca Traister’s book, Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger: She describes the book as “revelatory… women are taught not to be angry, that to be angry is to be shrill, to be hysterical, to be ugly. Anger is actually a way of keeping others from silencing us and expressing ourselves. Anger is a way to signal to each other and to protect each other, so that when we’re angry, and we talk about what we’re upset about, then other women can hear… We’ve been socialised to believe that we’re not feeling angry – we’re feeling sad, we’re feeling upset. And when I realised that, there was a sudden shift in my mind, and I thought, “Oh my God, all those times when I would burst into tears, I was actually angry!” I just didn’t know how to express it!”

[From Harper’s Bazaar]

I follow Traister on Twitter and I read her pieces in New York Magazine. She’s a great writer and a great tweeter and Portman summarizes Traister’s book/treatise very well. As women, we are conditioned to avoid ANGER and showing anger, expressing anger, verbalizing anger and Traister makes the argument that the Angry Woman is the revolutionary, the iconoclast, the changemaker. I love that Portman name-checked Traister! I also find her observation about “life is not like a novel” to be accurate and depressing. We want to believe so badly that “the arc of history bends towards justice,” but sometimes sh-t is just… terribly cyclical, rather than a progression. We’re in a bad cycle right now.

Natalie Portman brings her adorable daughter and their pet pup to the park

Photos courtesy of WENN & Backgrid, cover courtesy of Bazaar.

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14 Responses to “Natalie Portman: ‘I think it’s a mistake to think of humanity as evolving’”

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  1. elimaeby says:

    OMG, her dog is just precious!

  2. Valiantly Varnished says:

    This is very much how I feel about the Angry Black Woman trope. It’s a tactic to silence. And it’s worked for a long tome. But now more and more women – and black women especially – are saying “yeah, I AM angry. I have a lot to be angry about. And I’m entitled to the full range of my emotions.”

  3. Anne says:

    I teach history to college freshmen and this is one of the things I emphasize with them—that history isn’t the gradual improvement of conditions over time. Cycles repeat because humanity is, at the core, always the same. The up side of seeing that is understanding our own time more objectively. Our time has parallels in the past, so what can we do the same or differently to achieve the outcomes we want? It’s empowering to see it that way, rather than just to hope that progress will sweep us up on its own like some force of nature.

    • Harryg says:

      I LOVE history! It’s so important to remember the past. It’s odd how humans make the same mistakes over and over again. I think we are evolving and becoming better, but not fast enough, and not all at the same pace. Some people really desire to live in the caveman times where the” bigger guy wins.”

    • Esmom says:

      You sound like a great teacher. My youngest is off to college soon, not sure what he wants to study. My biggest wish is that he finds professors like you to engage him and inspire him.

    • adastraperaspera says:

      You’re doing incredibly important work, thank you!

  4. grabbyhands says:

    If there are future generations to look back at humanity, there’s going to be a lot of confusion when they see we reached a certain point of evolution, stopped and then appeared to turn around and run backwards, destroying all the progress we’d made as we did so. The confusion will get worse when they find the evidence of how many people thought this was a good idea and made them “great”.

  5. notthisagain says:

    i agree

  6. Meg says:

    I started following Rebecca Traister after seeing an interview she have during the 2016 election, I highly recommend her articles and interviews. I’m looking up her book now

  7. HELEN says:

    she’s right! humans are egotistical, therefore stupid as hell – we rarely learn from our mistakes.

  8. Wilma says:

    Actually, the world has never been this well off in human history and great progression has been made worldwide with regards to poverty, human rights, equality in the past 30 years. But, because that progression has been made in parts of the world that we don’t really register as important in the west, we don’t feel like we’re moving forward.

  9. Mab's A'Mabbin says:

    We’re evolving, but to truly call it evolution is to see the whole of human existence. In looking at decades and centuries, it’s essential to see the peaks and maddening valleys as cyclical breakdowns within the evolution growth chart. As humans, our progression may not mimic something like cost analysis (up, down but consistently rising), but overall, we do acclimate within our cycles. We’re stubborn, fearful, angry, hateful, bitter, hostile and complacent. And we’re also hopeful, thirsty, loving, interested, busy, intelligent and understanding. There’s no way for yin and yang to move quickly through life.

  10. Mumbles says:

    One thing that irritates me is when they describe a woman getting angry as “upset.” “Upset” to me connotes irrational overreaction. 99 percent of the time a woman is deemed “upset”, she is actually angry for a good reason.

  11. jennifer says:

    We have a right to feel anger and to express it…however being angry and yelling at someone, whether it’s an online rant or to someone’s face— will never work at changing someone’s opinion. This seems to get easily blown over in all discussions on how entitled everyone is to feel angry. Balance.