Actress Natalie Portman has shared a powerful and disturbing story of what it was like growing up as a female child actress in the public eye.
Natalie’s story gives a perspective of how society treats female bodies and manipulates their desires and voice through constant objectification.
Portman shared the shocking story during a speech at the Women’s March in Los Angeles:
The story is quite long but it really drives home how disgustingly society can treat incredibly young girls.
While most of us will have first seen Natalie Portman playing Padmé Amidala in the Star Wars prequels, her first film was much more challenging and adult.
I turned 12 on the set of my first film [Leon:] The Professional, in which I played a young girl who befriends a hitman and hopes to avenge the murder of her family.
The character in 1994’s Leon: The Professional is also 12-years-old and the death of her whole family forces her to grow up instantly, being quasi-adopted by the titular, but childlike, hitman Leon.
As Natalie Portman puts it in her speech ‘the character is simultaneously discovering and developing her womanhood, her voice and her desire.’
Not only was Natalie’s character growing up, but she was too:
At that moment in my life, I too was discovering my own womanhood, my own desire and my own voice.
However, in a disturbing case of life imitating art, Natalie was forced to grow up as quickly as the character she played.
Not because of the death of her family, but because of the death of her innocence brought about by a man’s response to the film:
I was so excited at 13 when the film was released and my work and my art would have a human response.
I excitedly opened my first fan mail to read a rape fantasy that a man had written me.
A truly sickening thing to send to a 13-year-old girl. I can’t even imagine how horrifying that would have been to read at such a young age.
Yett it wasn’t an isolated incident and perhaps unhinged ‘fans’, who sexualised and traumatised the teenage actress, the established media were just as inappropriate:
A countdown was started on my local radio show to my 18th birthday, euphemistically the date that I would be legal to sleep with.
Movie reviewers talked about my budding breasts in reviews.
You may be thinking this was the 90s, we’ve changed since then, the media has learned lessons, but the same ‘countdown’ was popular for Emma Watson when she turned 18 back in 2008.
Obviously it’s been ten years since then and hopefully we’re slightly better as a society – one would hope the media has matured slightly too.
However, it was too little too late for Natalie Portman:
At 13-years-old the message from our culture was clear to me. I felt the need to cover my body.
The messages I received served to control my behaviour through sexual terrorism.
Her phrase ‘sexual terrorism’ is quite shocking but terrorism is defined as ‘the unlawful use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims’.
No one can deny sending a young girl rape fantasies is intimidation and the act of rape is inherently violent.
The ‘political aims’ here would be the control and submission of women’s freedom.
You don’t have to literally control someone to restrict their freedom – a constant barrage of threats and objectification can create a prison as powerful as any four walls.
Despite her awful experience at such a young age Natalie Portman ends her speech with a positive rallying cry for how to improve the world, not just for women but for everyone:
Let’s create a world in which I could wear whatever I want, say whatever I want, be whatever I want and express my desire however I want without fearing for my physical safety and reputation.
That would be a world in which female desire and sexuality could have its greatest expression and fulfilment.
I would like to propose one way to continue moving this revolution forward. Let’s declare loud and clear this is what I want, this is what I need, this is what I desire. This is how you can help me achieve pleasure.
Let’s make a revolution of desire.
It sounds like the kind of revolution that is sorely needed given all the revelations of sexual abuse at all levels of society that were unearthed in 2017.
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues, and want to speak to someone in confidence regarding the welfare of a child contact the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000. If you are a child seeking advice and support call Childline for free on 0800 1111.