Natalie Portman is the latest celebrity to come forward with allegations of sexual harassment during her career. While thankful that she had never been physically assaulted, she says she has faced “discrimination or harassment on almost everything I’ve ever worked on in some way.” Ms. Portman addressed her experiences at a recent discussion at Vulture Festival L.A.
The wave of stories from other women coming to light over the over the last several months, spurred the Oscar-winning actress (Black Swan, 2010) to speak out. “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.”
In one story, Ms. Portman, 36, recalls an invitation by a producer to join him on his private plane to a shared destination, only to find herself in an awkward situation. They were the only two passengers aboard and a bed had been made up. Though the producer respected her feelings of discomfort and nothing happened, she says she still felt manipulated.
Ms. Portman said that during her career, the disproportionate number of men to women on set left her feeling alone, vulnerable, and reluctant to perform scenes of a romantic or sexual nature. “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?”
She says she wondered if this disparity on set was by design, or “strategic,” as a means of preventing women from having an outlet to comfortably and securely voice their experiences opinions, and concerns. “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.”
At production meetings, however, Ms. Portman says she often felt her opinions on projects were asked for merely as protocol, but yet were seldom appreciated or incorporated. At one such meeting , however, she recalls praising her previous male directors Pablo Larraín (Jackie), Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), and Mike Nichols (Closer, The Seagull) for valuing her opinion, yet was subsequently told by a director, “You’re exhausting.”’
“And it was completely different with male actors next to me in the same room,” she added. “To the point where one 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.’”
The Israeli-born Portman, a graduate of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was recently awarded the 2018 Genesis Prize, which, according to its website, “honors individuals who have attained excellence and international renown in their chosen professional fields, and who inspire others through their engagement and dedication to the Jewish community and/or the State of Israel.” The prize money will go toward causes that support and advance programs focusing on women’s equality, educational opportunities, economic advancement, health and safety, and equal participation in policy formulation and political activity in Israel.
By: Dena Friedman