On Sunday, while accepting the Critics Choice Awards best director award For Power of the Dog, 67-year-old Jane Campion, mentioned her fellow directing nominees (the “guys,” as she describes the rest of the all-male directors nominated this year) before she inexplicably turned her attention to tennis icons Serena and Venus Williams who were there to speak onstage about the film King Richard, which earned WIll Smith an award for best actor for his portrayal of the Williams patriarch.
“Serena and Venus, you are such marvels. However, you do not play against the guys like I have to,” she said with a laugh, raising her trophy above her head as the rest of the audience cheered and applauded. (bear in mind, both sisters have won multiple mixed doubles tournaments against male tennis players.)
The camera showed Venus Williams, reacting with an uncomfortable-looking smile, however, Serena Williams was shown clapping and laughing. Venus Williams and Campion were later photographed smiling and hugging. Nevertheless, the internet was quick to judge the award-winning director for diminishing the achievements of the world-class athletes and feminist icons.
After the entire world reacted in shock and dismay, Jane Campion issued an apology on Monday.
“I made a thoughtless comment equating what I do in the film world with all that Serena Williams and Venus Williams have achieved. I did not intend to devalue these two legendary Black women and world-class athletes,” Campion said in a statement to NBC and The Hollywood Reporter.
The Power of the Dog director’s apology continued: “The fact is the Williams sisters have, actually, squared off against men on the court (and off), and they have both raised the bar and opened doors for what is possible for women in this world. The last thing I would ever want to do is minimize remarkable women. I love Serena and Venus. Their accomplishments are titanic and inspiring. Serena and Venus, I apologize and completely celebrate you.”
This isn’t the first time Campion has experienced a bit of criticism. At the Directors Guild Awards just the day before, Campion was asked whether she was surprised by Academy Award-nominated actor Sam Elliott’s comments about Power of the Dog.
Elliott went viral earlier this month over expletive-filled comments he made about the film’s portrayal of the West on a Feb. 28 episode of the film podcast WTF with Marc Maron.
The actor said he watched the film in Texas while shooting 1883, the spinoff of Yellowstone.
He compared the movie’s ranchers to Chippendales dancers who “wear bowties and not much else,” saying that was what all the cowboys, including Cumberbatch, looked like. “All running around in chaps and no shirts. There are all these allusions of homosexuality … It was like, where’s the Western in this Western?”
Spoiler alert, the movie is gay. Cumberbatch plays a homosexual man who is so far in the closet that he is angry and abusive to just about anyone who he perceives to be weaker than him as he pines away for his long lost lover. Eliott basically explained that he understood the movie’s over theme and feeling, but seemed to communicate that in a homophobic and mysogynistic manner.
Then, in between insults, the actor praised Campion as a “brilliant director,” adding “I love her work, her previous work.”
He then proceeded to ask how a “woman from down there (New Zealand)” can “know about the American West” and questioned how she could film the movie in New Zealand and “call it Montana” and “say ‘This is the way it was.’ “
In Campion’s comments to Variety, posted on Twitter on Saturday, she began, “I’m sorry, he was being a little bit of a B-I-T-C-H. He’s not a cowboy; he’s an actor. The West is a mythic space and there’s a lot of room on the range. I think it’s a little bit sexist.”
She continued and made an excellent point, “I think it’s a little bit sexist, because if you think about the number of amazing Westerns made in Spain by (Spaghetti Western creator) Sergio Leone, it’s – I mean, I consider myself a creator. And I think he sees me as a woman or something lesser first and I don’t appreciate that.”
Earlier this month, star of the film Benedict Cumberbatch also responded to the criticism against Campion’s work and his own Oscar-nominated portrayal of rancher Phil Burbank.
Speaking as part of BAFTA’s Film Sessions on March 4, Cumberbatch did not give specific names, but alluded to Elliott’s criticism.
“I’m trying very hard not to say anything about a very odd reaction that happened the other day on a radio podcast over here, without meaning to stir over the ashes of that,” said Cumberbatch, who added it was “unfair” to get into details since he had not listened to the podcast but read news reports. “Someone really took offense to the West being portrayed in this way,” Cumberbatch said. “And beyond that reaction, that sort of denial that anybody could have any, other than a heteronormative existence because of what they do for a living or where they’re born, there’s also a massive intolerance within the world at large towards homosexuality still, towards an acceptance of the other, of any kind of difference and no more so I guess in this prism of conformity in the sense of what is expected of a man in the sort of Western archetype mold of masculinity.”
“If we are to understand what poisons the well in men, what creates toxic masculinity, we need to look (under) the hood of characters like Phil Burbank to see what their struggle is and why that’s there in the first place,” added Cumberbatch. “Otherwise it will continue to repeat itself.”
Cumberbatch went on to explain that it was important to explore “what is expected of a man” through the “Western archetype mold of masculinity” and “deconstruct that through Phil.”
“It’s not a history lesson,” said Cumberbatch. “These people still exist in our world. Whether it’s on our doorstep or whether it’s down the road or whether it’s someone we meet in a bar or pub or on the sports field, there is aggression and anger and frustration and an inability to control or know who you are in that moment that causes damage to that person and, as we know, damage to others around them.”
The Power of the Dog leads “the pack” with 12 Oscar nominations, including best picture and best director for Campion, hopefully this incident with the Williams sisters won’t complicate the awards for the cast.