Power of the Dog director Jane Campion garnered the full spectrum of internet love and hate over the weekend, first with her necessary quip about Sam Elliott, and then with an unnecessary quip about Venus and Serena Williams.
On Saturday, March 12, Campion was on the red carpet for the Directors Guild of America Awards, when she was asked about some disparaging comments Elliott made about her film on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast. Elliott — who’s acted in his fair share of Westerns — criticized the film for its “allusions to homosexuality,” complained about the costumes, and wondered, “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.”
Alas, the good energy Campion garnered Saturday went out the window Sunday as she accepted the award for Best Director at the Critics Choice Awards. During her speech, Campion praised nominees and winners in other categories, including Will Smith, who’d picked up the Best Actor prize for his turn in King Richard, the biopic about the Williams sisters’ father/coach. Campion then turned to her “fellow fellow” nominees in the best directing category, but appeared to still have tennis on the brain as she remarked that all the other Best Director nominees 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 appeared to be lighthearted and elicited some cheers in the moment, the criticism was swift on social media. Campion was called out for not only unnecessarily dragging the Williams sisters into her speech, but implicitly downplaying their accomplishments as Black athletes in a sport perennially dominated by white people. (Reps for the Williams sisters did not immediately return 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.”