In the wake of the revelations about Harvey Weinstein, a veritable tsunami of stories about sexual abuse in the entertainment industry, in politics, and in myriad other fields of endeavour has swept the world.
At New York magazine’s Vulture Festival in Los Angeles this week, Hollywood Star Natalie Portman spoke candidly about her own experience:
“When I heard everything coming out, I was like, wow, I’m so lucky that I haven’t had this. And then, on reflection, I was like, okay, definitely never been assaulted, definitely not…”
But then, she says, on further reflection she could think of countless stories where men in the movie business have exploited their power in an almost routine way:
“I went from thinking I don’t have a story to thinking, Oh wait, I have a hundred 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.”
She went on to describe how, especially as a young woman, she was frequently placed in inappropriately sexual situations.
In one case a producer offered to give her a lift using his private jet.
“I showed up and it was just the two of us, and one bed was made on the plane. Nothing happened, I was not assaulted. I said: ‘This doesn’t make me feel comfortable,’ and that was respected. But that was super not okay, you know?”
She also alluded to the male-dominated culture of film work, even today, and how the lack of opportunity to share her concerns with other women added to the sense of isolation:
“Usually you walk into a movie as the only woman, and you’re often the only woman on set. It’s very rare to have female crew members apart from hair, makeup, and wardrobe — the very stereotypical departments for women to be in — and I think women experience this in a lot of industries,” she said. “If you do get the opportunity to work, you’re often the only woman in the room. I hear this from friends of mine who are lawyers, business people, writers on shows.”
“The surprising thing is it almost feels strategic to keep you away from other women, because you don’t have the opportunity to share stories. All these accusations are like, ‘Oh yeah, everyone was isolated from each other,’ people didn’t share. They didn’t realise that there were hundreds of people with similar stories.
“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.”
Keen to express the idea that not all men in the film industry were abusive, Ms Portman cited directors Pablo Larraín (Jackie), Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), and Mike Nichols (Closer, The Seagull) for treating her as an equal but singled out one — unnamed — director for snapping ‘You’re exhausting’ when she tried to voice an opinion.
“I was like, ‘I’m exhausting for telling you my opinion about my job?’ And it was completely different with male actors next to me in the same room, to the point where one of the male actors 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.’”