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Director Jane Campion Apologizes After Saying Venus And Serena Don't Compete Against Men Like She Does

Director Jane Campion Apologizes After Saying Venus And Serena Don't Compete Against Men Like She Does
Lester Cohen/Getty Images for FIJI Water

Just as The Power of the Dog director Jane Campion was praised online for her ruthless takedown of actor Sam Elliott for bashing her movie, she was under fire the next day for making a thoughtless comment about tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams cited as an example of the toxic nature of White feminism.

During her acceptance speech for best director at Sunday's Critics Choice Awards, Campion addressed the tennis legends in the room and said:

“Venus and Serena, you’re such marvels. However, you don’t play against the guys, like I have to.”

The Williams sisters were attending the ceremony as the subjects of the critically-lauded film, King Richard, for which Will Smith won the best actor award for his portrayal of their father and tennis coach, Richard Dove Williams Jr.

“What an honor to be in the room with you,” Campion told the tennis stars while holding her trophy.

She then told Will Smith she's taken up tennis and would "truly love it" if he came over to give tennis lessons.

"I actually had to stop playing because I’ve got tennis elbow," she said, laughing.

Campion went on to acknowledge "the guys," her fellow nominees in her category–all of whom were male directors–including, Paul Thomas Anderson Licorice Pizza, Kenneth Branagh Belfast, Guillermo del Toro Nightmare Alley, Steven Spielberg West Side Story, and Denis Villeneuve Dune.

It was after that moment she referred back to Venus and Serena and compared her struggles against theirs with the "you don't play against the guys" remark.

You can hear her speech that one Twitter user called "cringe commentary", here.

While her statement resonated with a handful of the ceremony attendees, the reaction was a completely different story online.

Social media users slammed her for the comment many thought was tone-deaf, sexist and an example of toxic White feminism.

One Twitter user noted the racial bias Serena Williams was subjected to after the New York Times misrepresented her as Venus in a recent article.

In response to the backlash over her Critic's Choice acceptance speech, Campion issued a formal apology in an official statement to Variety.

She wrote:

"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."
"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."

Campion's remark at the awards ceremony was a jarring pivot after responding to Sam Elliott's criticism of her movie the day before.

Elliott–who is known for his work in American westerns early in his career and has recently starred in the Yellowstone prequel, 1883, on Paramount+–called Campion's movie a "piece of sh*t" in an interview on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast earlier this month.

He slammed Campion's decision to film production in New Zealand instead of in Montana, where the story takes place, and also complained about the movie's “allusions of homosexuality"–which is the whole point of the film.

On Saturday, in response, Campion defended her decision for the film's shooting location, saying the "West is a mythic space and there's a lot of room on the range."

She added that Elliott was“being a little bit of a B-I-T-C-H" and said, "I think it’s a little bit sexist."