Natalie Portman is here for female directors
Last night, Natalie told Charlie Rose that before she started directing A Tale of Love and Darkness, “[she] wasn’t used to expressing [her] opinion in a clear way” or “expressing what [she] wanted.” She credits Transparent’s Jill Soloway with capturing what makes it so challenging for female directors to succeed in Hollywood:
“She said that directing is very much about desire and that we aren't comfortable with female desire. You have to say, 'I want that. I want that. I want that.' And it was hard for me at the beginning when they would say, you know, ‘What colour should we make this wall in the house?’ Or, you know, ‘Do you think the length of this skirt is right?’ or, “What kind of filter do you want to put on the lens?” And I would say, “You know what, I’m not sure, tell me if this is stupid, but I…”
How many people can relate to that, in any workplace setting? Or in any negotiation, even amongst peers or friends? Or in a relationship? This is not simply a Hollywood lesson, it’s a lesson for everybody.
Natalie goes on:
“No one wants you [to say that], when you’re the leader. They want you to say, “I want this, I want that, I like that, that’s not good, that’s not right,” you know? And you have to be clear and direct. I knew what I wanted, I just didn’t know how to express it, and it was amazing. Within a week, I was very comfortable, but it was interesting to see that, you know, at 31 when I directed [A Tale of Love and Darkness], I still hadn’t developed that in myself, and this definitely helped me develop that clarity and comfort and saying what I want.”
Is this familiar to you?
This is not pretentious language – it’s an accessible way of articulating gender issues in the workplace about how to stand up for yourself and your vision. It’s Natalie’s teachable moment, and it does not feel patronizing. Natalie’s message is that women need to learn that it’s okay to be assertive and to fight for your ideas. We’re told that “women can do anything,” but at the same time, we’re conditioned to often be afraid of being, like Natalie says, “clear and direct” about what we want, for fear of coming off bossy, arrogant or bitchy. Women are supposed to be approachable, friendly, courteous and we often are, but what about when that perception is threatened by the need to articulate or advocate for yourself?
Admittedly, being assertive is hard. Being the boss? That’s even harder. A strong leader earns respect when they have a clear point of view, and according to Natalie (and Jill Soloway), it can be tough for women to express what they want professionally without fear of damaging their reputations in the workplace or in their personal lives. Coming off as “bitchy” is not a good look, but being indecisive is even worse, especially when you know your opinion is worthy of being heard. Natalie talks about the language that women use to disguise their assertiveness – the qualifying statements, the preambles, or deferring to others. She’s trying to model to others how this is not the way to express yourself, and that women need to decondition themselves and remove these bad habits, because it just makes for messy communication and dissatisfaction all around. Natalie is not only pointing out the double standard when it comes to expression, she’s trying to course correct and spread that message.
Natalie hit the premiere of A Tale of Love and Darkness soon after taping her interview with Charlie Rose. Earlier in the day, when she stopped by GMA, she called writing, directing, producing and starring in the movie “empowering.” You can tell.
Gary Gershoff/ Dimitrios Kambouris/ Michael Stewart/ Robert Kamau/ Getty Images