Back when she was campaigning for her Black Swan Oscar, I dubbed Natalie Portman “Natalie Never” because I couldn’t handle her cloying campaign persona. Over the years, though, I’ve mellowed toward Portman, and in the last year I’ve actually kind of liked her. It’s mostly thanks to her openly “f-ck this” attitude toward the men in her industry as the extent of the systemic abuses have been revealed, and encoruaging people to “gossip well”. This is a version of Natalie Portman I can cope with.
This latest iteration of Portman’s public persona is the subject of a new Vanity Fair cover profile as she gears up for another Oscar campaign for Vox Lux (in, I assume, the Supporting Actress category as the article mentions her character doesn’t appear until halfway into the film). On this campaign Natalie is talking about making friends with women in her industry for the first time, meeting in “affinity groups” to commiserate and offer support. Brie Larson is “forever grateful” that Portman reached out and got women together. It’s a good narrative, it supports her public-facing work on behalf of Time’s Up and just fed up women in general.
Womanhood is very much the theme of this profile. Portman is shedding the last remnants of her ingénue status and going for full-icon realization. She’s bonding with women, working with women, speaking for women, she is a mother, though not the kind to show her children on social media but do not forget she does have them, and she is making a habit of playing complicated women on screen. She is gamine, sure, but she is moving away from her time-dilated famous childhood, in which she was both older and younger than she was for twenty years. She decries being part of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trend. Gone is the girl. Now is the time of warrior-mother-woman.
Sounds a little dramatic, but this profile is a little dramatic. Practically, it’s operating on two levels. On one level, it is establishing Portman as a fixture of Time’s Up and #MeToo, even though it is equally clear she knew to stay clear of Harvey Weinstein. She got some gross fanmail, she knew there were some “bad dudes” in her industry, but she discovered the full extent of the badness of those dudes along with the rest of us last year. On the other level, the profile is full of superlatives about her acting in an attempt to canonize her career thus far (your mileage will vary depending on how much you like Portman as an actress). If this is going to be Portman’s campaign tack, it definitely beats belly-cupping.