Jane Campion, the director of Power of the Dog, received a lot of love and hate on the internet over the weekend, first for her essential jab about Sam Elliott, and then for a needless quip about Venus and Serena Williams.
Campion was asked about the disparaging comments Elliott made about her film on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast while on the red carpet for the Directors Guild of America Awards on Saturday, March 12. Elliott, who has appeared in a number of Westerns, panned the film for its “allusions to homosexuality,” criticized the clothing, and wondered out, “Where’s the Western in this Western?”
In response, Campion said Elliott was “being a little bit of a B-I-T-C-H,” spelling out the word for added effect. “He’s not a cowboy, he’s an actor,” she added. “The West is a mythic space and there’s a lot of room on the range. I think it’s a little bit sexist.”
Unfortunately, Campion’s positive energy from Saturday wiped away as she won the Critics’ Choice Award for Best Director on Sunday. Campion recognized nominees and winners in other categories during her remarks, including Will Smith, who won Best Actor for his performance in King Richard, a biopic of the Williams sisters’ father/coach. Campion then went to her “fellow fellow” Best Director nominees, although she still seemed to be thinking about tennis as she mentioned that all the other Best Director finals were men.
“Venus and Serena, you’re such marvels,” Campion said. “However, you don’t play against the guys, like I have to.”
Although Campion’s comments seemed to be humorous at the time and received some clapping, the criticism was swift on social media. Campion was criticized for not only pulling the Williams sisters into her speech unnecessarily but also for indirectly downplaying their achievements as Black athletes in a sport that has long been dominated by white people. (The Williams sisters’ representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)
Campion has since released an apology to the Williams sisters, sharing in a statement: “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.”
She 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.”