When Natalie Portman took the stage at ELLE’s annual Women in Hollywood event last night, she was poised to talk about equality. Her latest film, Lucy in the Sky, explores the stakes for women who fail or flounder in comparison their male counterparts. Her female astronaut character “loses her cool and loses everything.”
But during her remarks, the Oscar winner painted a world in which women are allowed to fail big and stay in the game. “The most powerful example we can set for the next generation would be for us to do that most human of things: Make mistakes, and then not follow the narrative of the doomed woman or the fallen women or the destroyed woman,” Portman declared. “Go out post-mistake and succeed wildly. So, fuck up and thrive sisters.”
Read Portman’s full Women in Hollywood speech.
I am so happy to be here with you all today. Thank you all. I mean, that’s the best honor. I’m so flattered to be here with this group. Mindy, Nicole, Melina, Lena, Jodi, Zendaya, Scarlett, Gwyneth, Dolly. I’m honored to be here among you. And I love watching everything you do and I feel lucky to be in a world where you are making such beautiful art. I’m so happy to be here on behalf of Lucy in the Sky, which opened last week.
Lucy is an astronaut. She’s a high achiever. She’s someone who wins and when she gets back to Earth after her mission, she has a hard time returning to the mundane routines of everyday life. And she … kind of, well, loses it. And when she loses her cool, she loses everything. She loses her job, her relationship, her identity. And the experience of playing this character made me yearn for a woman’s right to fuck up. To fuck up and not be interminably punished for it. Because we know, as we tell our kids, that making mistakes is the only way we learn. And we know that the biggest moments of our growth come out of our worst blunders. And if we have to play it safe to avoid mistakes, to avoid the severity of consequences for women who make mistakes, we can never be all that we potentially could be.
And over the past couple of years I’ve gotten to meet more of you—and by you, I mean those of you who identify as women in the entertainment industry—than I have in my entire 25-year career. And to my great delight, I’ve encountered some of the kindest, most thoughtful, most interesting people I’ve ever met. Once, a long time ago, a guy I dated told me that his father had warned him not to date actresses or other female impersonators. And I laughed. But I also internalized that people think of actresses as crazy and as difficult and as demanding and as artificial. And recently, as I sat in room after room of actresses because of Time’s Up, I was struck by how down to earth, how empathetic, how thoughtful and multifaceted each of the women I met were, without exception. And I realized that success for women relies on good behavior. And that the women who are in this room are probably the hardest working, the least complaining, the best personalities you can find.
And of course here, everyone is super talented and smart but also easy to be around. Because if you are a woman and you’re a pain in the ass, you will not get another job. And meanwhile, how will we know if we’ve reached equality? Is it going to be when this room is a room of successful women and it’s full of assholes? Is it going to be when our movies tank and then we get a raise the next time? Is it going to be when we commit a series of crimes and get elected anyway?
I hope not. I hope that it’s, more optimistically, that equality goes in the direction of men being held to the same standards that women are held to. That alongside talent, kindness, respect, and being easy to work with are valued as essential characteristics to getting hired. And that truly bad behavior prevents you from getting another job. And that when the offense is forgivable, when the post-mistake learning is real, people with all genders get the second chance that men currently do.
So, our job in this room as leaders in our industry is fuck up. The most powerful example we can set for the next generation would be for us to do that most human of things, make mistakes and then not follow the narrative of the doomed woman or the fallen women or the destroyed woman. Go out post-mistake and succeed wildly. So fuck up and thrive sisters.