She was only 13 when she won her first role, in Leon: The Professional – but even then, Natalie Portman was experiencing sexual harassment.
Speaking to LA’s Women’s March, actress Natalie Portman has described the “sexual terrorism” she faced after she made her screen debut aged just 13 years old.
This came not just from fans, she said, but also from the media, who discussed her “budding breasts” and counted down the days until she was “legal to sleep with”.
“A countdown was started on my local radio show to my 18th birthday, euphemistically the date that I would be legal to sleep with,” she told the crowd – estimated to be at 500,000.
“Movie reviewers talked about my budding breasts in reviews. I understood very quickly, even as a 13-year-old, that if I were to express myself sexually I would feel unsafe and that men would feel entitled to discuss and objectify my body to my great discomfort.”
And after her role in Leon: The Professional at 13, Portman was forced to read a “detailed rape fantasy” that an adult man had included in a fan letter – leading her to cast herself as “prudish, conservative, nerdy and serious” in interviews and film roles.
“I rejected any role that even had a kissing scene and talked about that choice deliberately in interviews,” she explained. “I emphasised how bookish I was and how serious I was. And I cultivated an elegant way of dressing. I built a reputation for basically being prudish, conservative, nerdy, serious, in an attempt to feel that my body was safe and that my voice would be listened to.”
“At 13 years old, the message from our culture was clear to me. I felt the need to cover my body and to inhibit my expression and my work in order to send my own message to the world that I’m someone worthy of safety and respect.”
“The response to my expression, from small comments about my body to more deliberate statements, served to control my behaviour through an environment of sexual terrorism.”
Fellow actress Scarlett Johannson also used the L.A. Women’s March to discuss the Time’s Up movement – calling out James Franco in the process.
“My mind baffles,” she said. “How can a person publicly stand by an organisation that helps provide support for victims of sexual assault while privately preying on people who have no power?”
“I stand before you as someone who is empowered not only by the curiosity about myself and by the active choices that I’m finally able to make and stand by, but by the brightness of this movement, the strength and the unity that this movement has provided. It gives me hope that we are moving toward a place where our sense of equality can truly come from within ourselves.”
Image: Rex Features