When Natalie Portman Wore A Unique Dress To The Oscars, It Sparked Unexpected Controversy

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Natalie Portman wasn’t even nominated at the 2020 Academy Awards. And yet she still made more headlines than many of the winners thanks to her controversial choice of outfit – which riled one outspoken celebrity in particular. Indeed, rarely has the typical red carpet question “who are you wearing” been more apt.

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Portman teamed up with Dior creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri to create her very unique fashion statement. But the A-lister – who won the Best Actress Oscar in 2011 for her part in Black Swan – didn’t exactly keep it simple. In fact, just her black and gold gown alone took an incredible 600 hours to make.

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No fewer than six seamstresses worked tirelessly to make sure the dress was ready in time for the glittering ceremony. The gown was also embroidered with the same wheat motif that had featured in the fashion house’s spring/summer collection for 2020. But it was the additional cape that got everyone talking.

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Another two artisans were required to spend a total of 280 hours on the cape. While satin cuir was used to create its lapels, the body was made out of both silk and wool. Like its accompanying gown, the cape was also embroidered. But rather than a wheat motif, it was with a message that sent a powerful statement to the rest of Hollywood.

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Of course, Portman wasn’t actually nominated at the Academy Awards itself. Sadly for the actress, her only eligible performance was never going to trouble the panel of voters. Lucy in the Sky – in which Portman portrayed astronaut Lucy Cola – bombed with both audiences and critics alike. And on a budget of $27 million, it took a measly $325,950.

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And Portman is unlikely to receive an Oscar nod in the near future, too. Her next project, Dolphin Reef, is a nature documentary in which she serves as narrator. And then she reprises her role as Jane Foster in Thor: Love and Thunder – another entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, the superhero genre has typically been ignored by the major awards ceremonies when it comes to the acting categories.

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Of course, Portman has been recognized for her considerable talents several times previously. She picked up her first notable nomination – Best Supporting Actress at the Golden Globes – in 1999 for her turn in the drama Anywhere But Here. She then went on to win the same award six years later for her performance in Closer – which was also nominated at the Oscars.

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In 2011 Portman became something of an awards darling. She beat the likes of Nicole Kidman, Annette Bening and Jennifer Lawrence to win the Best Actress Oscar for her role in psychological drama Black Swan. She also emerged victorious in the same category at the Golden Globes. Portman then picked up her third nod at the Academy Awards and a fourth at the Globes for her portrayal of Jackie Kennedy in biopic Jackie.

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However, Portman still had an important role to play at the 2020 Oscars ceremony. Alongside Timothée Chalamet, she presented the award for Best Adapted Screenplay that went to New Zealander Taika Waititi for Jojo Rabbit. And like Portman, her fellow co-presenter Chalamet also came under some scrutiny for his choice of outfit.

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Chalamet decided to stir things up a little and eschew the usual black tie attire favored by most male attendees. The actor – who played Theodore “Laurie” Laurence in the six-time Oscar-nominated adaptation of Little Women – opted for a bomber jacket and two-piece tracksuit designed by Stella McCartney. And the response on social media was mixed to say the least.

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One Twitter user joked, “This is so insulting. I know Timothée Chalamet is not nominated but it is wrong to make him do valet parking.” Also referring to his unusual red carpet outfit, another remarked, “Timothée Chalamet is doing double duty tonight – presenting and security. We love a multi-talented man.”

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Chalamet is unlikely to have been too bothered by comments about his looks, however. Just a few months earlier, the actor was hailed by British GQ as the world’s best-dressed male celebrity. Furthermore, he beat one of the 2020 Oscars’ big winners, Brad Pitt, to the honor for his willingness to take big risks.

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Portman has herself also regularly graced the upper reaches of such style-based polls over the years. Indeed, many of her previous Academy Awards outfits have been hailed as the night’s best. In 2009 she caught attention with the bold pink Rodarte gown whose bodice came equipped with several sparkling gemstone accents.

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Just two years later Portman once again wowed the crowds with a purple gown again designed by Rodarte. The then-pregnant actress accessorized her look with matching earrings and purple satin heels from Jimmy Choo. And Portman got the chance to show off her glamorous outfit when her name was called out in the Best Actress category.

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In 2012 Portman walked down the red carpet in a stunning red dress designed by Christian Dior. The 1954 outfit – which was also adorned with black polka dots – was later put up for auction where it went for an astonishing $50,000. But it was the star’s fashion statement in 2020 that became her most attention-grabbing.

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At first glance, it may be difficult to determine why the outfit caused such a stir. But if you zoom in on the cape that Portman wore over her equally elaborate gown, you may notice dozens of names. And they represented all of the female directors that the actress felt had been snubbed by the Academy Awards that year.

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The Academy Awards had already faced a significant amount of criticism following the announcement of the Best Director nominations. As just like eight out of the previous ten years, all of those recognized in the category were men. Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird and Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker are the only women to have appeared on the shortlist over the past decade.

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In fact, only three other women have been nominated for Best Director in the entire history of the Academy Awards. Lila Wertmuller was the first to be recognized for 1976’s Seven Beauties. She was followed by Jane Campion for 1993’s The Piano and Sofia Coppola for 2003’s Lost in Translation. However, Bigelow is the only woman to have actually won the coveted gong.

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Portman, for her part, has regularly spoken out about the apparent sexism when it comes to the director categories at high profile awards shows. At the Golden Globes in 2018, she was asked to present the Best Director Award. The star used the opportunity to make a subtle dig at voters’ narrow-mindedness, declaring, “And here are the all-male nominees.”

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Portman gave a shout-out to one of the few female directors to have picked up a Best Director Oscar nod on her cape – Little Women’s Greta Gerwig. But she also made sure to mention several other names she felt had been unfairly snubbed. These included Lulu Wang for The Farewell, Lorene Scafaria for Hustlers and Marielle Heller for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.

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And Portman was initially applauded for her efforts when she debuted her outfit on the red carpet of the Academy Awards. Harper’s Bazaar magazine declared on Twitter, “Not all heroes wear capes, but Natalie Portman is now one of them.” Marie Claire also expressed its approval on the same platform, simply posting, “Bravo, Natalie.”

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However, Portman then suffered a backlash in almost record time. Within minutes, several social media users began pointing out that the star’s statement may have been slightly hypocritical. For the actress had only ever made two films with women directors during her long-running career – and that included the movie she’d helmed herself.

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To make matters worse, it was soon revealed that Handsomecharlie Films, the star’s production company, had yet to give the director’s chair to a woman other than Portman. Two posts on Twitter alerting users to these facts quickly amassed a total of over 300,000 likes. And the criticism didn’t end there.

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Fellow actress Rose McGowan certainly wasn’t impressed by Portman being celebrated as a champion of women’s rights. The Scream star took to Facebook to vent her frustration in a post which began, “[This was] the kind of protest that gets rave reviews from the mainstream media for its bravery. Brave? No, not by a long shot. More like an actress acting the part of someone who cares. As so many of them do.”

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“I find Portman’s type of activism deeply offensive to those of us who actually do the work,” continued the highly aggrieved McGowan. “I’m not writing this out of bitterness, I am writing out of disgust. I just want her and other actresses to walk the walk. What is it with actresses of your ilk? You ‘A-listers’ could change the world if you’d take a stand instead of being the problem.”

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McGowan concluded her vehement Facebook post with a direct message to Portman. She wrote, “Stop pretending you’re some kind of champion for anything other than yourself. Until you and your fellow actresses get real, do us all a favor and hang up your embroidered activist cloak – it doesn’t hang right.”

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And this wasn’t the first time that McGowan had called out a celebrity publicly. In 2015 she blasted Caitlyn Jenner over her remarks that “the hardest part about being a woman is figuring out what to wear.” Addressing Jenner directly, McGowan wrote on Facebook, “We are more than the stereotypes foisted upon us by people like you. You’re a woman now? Well f***ing learn that we have had a very different experience than your life of male privilege.”

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McGowan also claimed that Ben Affleck was lying when the Argo director revealed he was angry on hearing the details of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. The actress described Meryl Streep as a hypocrite, too – believing that the multiple Oscar winner had always known about Weinstein’s abuse of power. However, this was a claim that Streep later furiously denied.

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In 2015 McGowan also slammed the casting process for an Adam Sandler film that she deemed as sexist. She wrote on Twitter, “It was just so dumb. I was offended by the stupidity more than anything. I was offended by the fact that [it] went through so many people’s hands and nobody red flagged it. This is normal to so many people. It was probably even a girl that had to type it up. It’s institutionally okay.”

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Portman wasted little time in responding to the furore that she’d found herself caught up in. In a statement, she acknowledged the fact that she hadn’t worked with many female directors on feature films during her glittering career. However, the actress did defend herself by referring to the countless other projects that have been helmed by women.

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“In my long career, I’ve only gotten the chance to work with female directors a few times,” Portman said. “I’ve made shorts, commercials, music videos and features with Marya Cohen, Mira Nair, Rebecca Zlotowski, Anna Rose Holmer, Sofia Coppola, Shirin Neshat and myself.” Portman took the director’s chair for the first time in 2015 on the Israeli drama A Tale of Love and Darkness.

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Portman also claimed that she’d put her name to several other projects helmed by women that had sadly failed to come to fruition. She continued, “Unfortunately, the unmade films I have tried to make are a ghost history. Female films have been incredibly hard to get made at studios, or to get independently financed. If these films do get made, women face enormous challenges during the making of them.”

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“I have had the experience a few times of helping get female directors hired on projects which they were then forced out of because of the conditions they faced at work,” Portman expanded. And in many cases, the fight isn’t over even when a female-directed film actually gets completed.

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Portman added, “After they are made, female-directed films face difficulty getting into festivals, getting distribution and getting accolades because of the gatekeepers at every level. So I want to say, I have tried, and I will keep trying. While I have not yet been successful, I am hopeful that we are stepping into a new day.”

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And Portman was also keen to point out that she gets the criticisms over her Oscars outfit being described as an act of courage. She said, “I agree with Ms McGowan that it is inaccurate to call me ‘brave’ for wearing a garment with women’s names on it. Brave is a term I more strongly associate with actions like those of the women who have been testifying against Harvey Weinstein the last few weeks – under incredible pressure.”

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Some saw this as a dig against McGowan for the fact that she reportedly accepted a settlement worth $100,000 relating to a sexual harassment allegation against Weinstein. By taking this sum of money, the actress wasn’t allowed to testify against the disgraced movie mogul in court. And others suggested that McGowan didn’t exactly have a great track record when it comes to working with women herself.

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Out of the 27 full-length feature films McGowan has made, only four have been helmed by women. And one of those directors, Kari Scogland, was forced to issue an apology on McGowan’s behalf after the latter claimed that she’d have joined the Irish Republican Army (IRA) had she grown up in Belfast. Martin McGartland, whose life story Fifty Dead Men Walking was based on, described McGowan’s comments as “insulting to victims of IRA terrorism.”

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McGowan had also faced criticism for her remarks about Victor Salva – the director of her 2011 film Rosewood Lane who’d been convicted of child pornography. She once said, “I still don’t really understand the whole story or history there, and I’d rather not, because it’s not really my business. But he’s an incredibly sweet and gentle man.”

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The response to McGowan’s comments about Portman perhaps inspired the highly outspoken actress to be a bit more reflective. The Planet Terror star later took to Twitter where she admitted that she was regretful for speaking out in such a fashion. She began, “My critique should’ve been about Hollywood’s ongoing culture of silence.”

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“I realize that by critiquing someone personally, I lost sight of the bigger picture,” an apologetic McGowan admitted. She concluded her statement by sending out a call-to-arms to her Twitter followers. The actress said, “All voices, however spoken, are valid. Let’s all keep pushing boundaries in whatever way we can, it’s time to get loud.”

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