As more stories of sexual assault and harassment continue to pour out of Hollywood post-Harvey Weinstein, more actors are continuing to come forward to share their own stories of assault and harassment. The latest to lend their personal stories to the ongoing narrative is Oscar winner Natalie Portman.
The actor appeared at Sunday’s Vulture Festival L.A. and admitted that it took time for her to realize that she not only had her own story of harassment, she had ‘hundreds’ of stories. “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 I’ve had discrimination or harassment on almost everything I’ve ever worked on in some way,” said Portman.
“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.”
Portman, who has been a working actor in Hollywood since age 11, said she often turned down work in her younger years over fears of being objectified or labelled by producers and directors. “There was definitely a period where I was reluctant to do any kind of kissing scenes, sexual scenes. Because [for] my first roles, the reaction people would [give] in reviews [was to] call me a Lolita and things like that, and I got so scared by it,” said Portman, a two-time Golden Globe winner.
“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?”
The actor and Harvard grad talked about a time when a producer invited her to fly to an event on his private plane. Portman accepted the offer with the impression that other members of the company would be on board, but when she arrived, she found that she and the producer were the only passengers on a the plane, which also had one bed. Portman told the producer that nothing was going to happen and thankfully nothing did, but it was a moment that has stayed with the actor for years. “That was really unacceptable and manipulative and could have been — I was scared, you know? But just the fact of any woman, if you’re walking down the street alone at night, you feel scared, and I’m not sure guys know what that [feels like].”
Speaking about her own experience working on Hollywood films, Portman says she’s often the only woman on set aside from the wardrobe and make up department, noting that the gender divide doesn’t end when the director yells cut. “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. 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.”
As for why it often takes years for women to come forward to accuse their assailants, Portman notes that separating women in workplaces may be a tactic to stop women from sharing their stories and experiences. “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 realize that there were hundreds of people with similar stories,” says Portman. “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.”
This isn’t the first time Portman has spoken out about the disparity in gender in Hollywood. In the January 2017 issue of Marie Claire, Portman revealed that her No Strings Attached co-star Ashton Kutcher was paid three times more than she was for their 2011 film, the same year Portman won her Academy Award for Black Swan.