In a recent interview with Buzzfeed, Annihilation star Natalie Portman opened up about her experiences as a child actor, her involvement with the sexual harassment revolution taking over Hollywood, and the one major regret she has when it comes to casting her support in the industry.
Portman, who starred in her first major project The Professional at 11 years old, was thrust into the spotlight as just a child. Following her role in the Luc Besson thriller (which had "sexual overtones/undertones," as she describes) the actress had to deal with a public that at times inappropriately sexualized her.
“I think you do have a lot of sexuality as a kid, and I definitely had that as part of my essence,” Portman said of her first major movie part. “And it shouldn't have to be buttoned up. It should be allowed to be expressed and not endanger you.”
However, Portman admitted that the role did inspire an unfortunate trend—“Everything I was being offered was, like, sexy little girls,” she said of her early career.
Despite her longtime prominence in Hollywood, the Oscar winner hasn’t always been quick to march on the battlefront for equality. Counter to her recent spate of comments regarding the mistreatment of women in the industry, including her now-viral jab at the “all-male” Best Director category at the Golden Globes, Portman’s previous stance on sexual allegations and inequality in Hollywood was far from black and white.
In 1977, Rosemary’s Baby director Roman Polanski pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl. Prior to sentencing, Polanski fled the United States and took up citizenship in his native France. In Europe, the director continued to make films and was brought back into the public fore with World War II drama The Pianist, which won Polanski the 2003 Oscar for Best Director.
After decades of exile, Polanski was arrested in Switzerland while accepting a lifetime achievement award at the Zurich film festival in 2009. The unexpected arrest led a group of industry front-runners to create and sign a petition calling for the acclaimed director’s release. “We demand the immediate release of Roman Polanski,” the petition read, backed by the support of Hollywood heavyweights like Woody Allen, Tilda Swinton, Martin Scorsese, Harrison Ford, and, yes, Natalie Portman.
Portman addressed her decision to sign the controversial petition, telling Buzzfeed, “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.”
As far as apologies go, this one is rather profuse. But Portman signed the petition nearly nine years ago, and she’s only now speaking out against her decision. At the time that this petition was making its rounds, Portman was 28-years-old—a full-fledged, Harvard-educated adult with an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe win under her belt. She was no longer a child star getting a feel for the industry, but an influential actress whose name held a great deal of weight in Hollywood and among her fan base.
Following the Golden Globes, Portman voiced her support for Dylan Farrow (who accused Woody Allen of molesting her as a child, an allegation that the director denies) in a conversation with Oprah on CBS Sunday Morning. "I believe Dylan. I would want to say that: 'I believe you, Dylan,'" she said in January.
“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,” Portman said in the Buzzfeed interview in reference to Farrow’s claims. “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.”
That being said, the mother of two thinks the current Time's Up conversation doesn’t think Woody Allen’s career should factor into the current conversation. “I think [the conversation] should be about: Why didn't Elaine May make a movie every year? Why didn't Nora Ephron make a movie every year? Where's the female version of Bill Cosby? Why don't we see any Asian women in films? There's so much art that's being lost by not giving opportunities to women and people of color,” she stated. “Let's not talk about what man's career is over. Let's talk about the vast art trove we've lost by not giving women, people of color, people with disabilities, and the LGBTQ+ community opportunities—let's talk about that loss for all of us in art. Let's talk about that huge hole in our culture. I don't want talk about ‘Isn't it sad that this person who's made 500 movies can't make movies anymore?’ That's not for me to decide. And it's also not what I'm upset about.”
Portman’s words are stirring, but once more come several years late. Farrow’s allegations against Allen were made public in 1992—Portman worked with the director on Everyone Says I Love You in 1996. While we should not criticize a 15-year-old actress for working with Allen at the time, Portman did wait more than 20 years to comment on the allegations. In that time, Allen’s career and A-list collaborations thrived while his accuser’s claims were overlooked and untouched by the bulk of the director’s famous colleagues.