As an eight year old sitting on my couch and vaguely aware of what was playing on CMT, Natalie Portman did something truly remarkable for me. Seeing her inhabit the character of Novalee Nation brought cinema to life for me and made me realize how commendable and courageous the profession of acting could be. Since that fateful day, I have developed many eclectic and consuming interests within the realm of art, but Natalie Portman has always stuck because it was she who opened the door for all others. I immediately watched her entire filmography, most of which is questionably appropriate for an eight year old at best. I’m glad I did, though. It expanded my horizons and artistic tastes. Listening to Natalie Portman’s interviews and reading up on her life also taught me quite a lot. For these reasons, I was highly disappointed in the Golden Globes this year.
My disappointment did not stem from the fact that Portman was possibly snubbed for an award she undoubtedly deserved. That fact bothered me a great deal, but it did not spur my utter dismay.
About a year after I initially became interested in the career of Natalie Portman, I learned something that threatened to shake my newfound respect and admiration. In an appearance on Letterman, she expressed her political views, and as an idealistic kid I was shocked to find that they did not align perfectly with my own. Now I do not make such ridiculous assumptions, but at nine I sort of assumed everyone thought like me. I was flabbergasted to learn that was not the case, especially with my favorite actress. Because her first voting election was approaching, David Letterman asked Natalie Portman about her thoughts on the potential candidates. She admitted that she did not hate McCain, but said that she disagreed with his war stance. According to my memory, she never explicitly stated who she was planning to vote for in the interview, but she made it clear that she had leftward-leaning tendencies.
I’d like to say I took the news well. Truthfully, there was a period of about a week where I thought I would never recover. I’m ashamed of it now, but I think I had an excuse to be fairly narrow-minded at the time, considering my mind had not had time to expand. I wrestled with this realization. I’m someone who takes everything extremely personally, so I felt as if this were a personal slight. But after I got over the initial shock, I eventually popped back in a DVD featuring Portman and was shocked to find the colors still vibrant, the performance still moving and the feeling it left me with unchanged. The magic of her artistry was still very much there.
I reflected back on the interview and realized a few very important things that would forever change my outlook on politics and life. First, I realized that Portman did not set out to make a political statement. She shared her thoughts only after being directly asked for them. Secondly, I realized how hesitant and impartial she was in her announcement of her political convictions. She referred to specific policies, she did not make detracting remarks or blatant attacks, and she never attempted to tell anyone else for whom they should vote or how they should feel. Finally, I realized that our differing political views did not matter. She was an adult who had obviously done her research and believed the way she did for valid reasons. The fact that she disagreed with me did not make her less of a person or less of an artist, and it did not mean that either one of us was inherently and totally wrong. I still loved her movies, she was still my favorite actress and I still greatly respected her, possibly even more so for having taught me that important lesson that truly broadened my mind.
It is because of that lesson that I am extremely disappointed in the Golden Globes this year. I suppose I should not be surprised, but I am still disheartened. It was not Meryl Streep’s call to empathy that disappointed me, but rather the self-important air that accompanied the obvious and flagrant opposition and disrespect directed at our president-elect. I’ll be the first to admit that Trump is a comedic goldmine and that it would be impossible to ignore his looming presence in popular culture, but comedy does not always have to go hand-in-hand with disrespect and haughtiness. The fact of the matter is that campaign season is over. The election has been called. Donald Trump will soon be inaugurated at our forty-fifth president, and Hollywood is still acting in the exact same manner that helped to get Trump elected. By all means, call people to be more empathetic, but most of the rhetoric that occurred throughout the ceremony did not inspire empathy but greater division.
You cannot force others to see your point of view, and feeling that your point of view is better or more important than others is exactly how you concede defeat. One of the primary reasons Donald Trump got elected was because people were tired of being told what to care about and how to think. People were tired of celebrities, who only have a platform because of their patronage, thinking that they could sway an election or impact the national thinking. Unlike Natalie Portman all those years ago, the celebrities who took the stage at the Golden Globes were not asked to speak on political matters, and they were not demure or unassuming in their announcements either. They spoke not of policies or platforms, but of the person who will soon take our nation’s sacred oath of office.
As utterly discouraged as I am at this abuse of power and prestige, I will be equally disappointed if this prompts a public backlash against the bodies of work of these artists. Now more than ever it is important for people to have their minds and feelings broadened and expanded. No matter how steadfast in your convictions you may be, you will never be made lesser or worse by encountering new ideas and experiences. You can choose to refrain from giving a certain actor or actress your patronage, of course, but please do not close yourself off to film or television entirely. The best way to learn and express empathy is to encounter all sorts of people and lifestyles, and perhaps the most accessible and easy way to do that is through the power of cinema.
Had I given up on Natalie Portman at nine years old, I truly don’t know who I would be today. It sounds dramatic, I know, but it’s true. Without her career I would not have done extensive research on Anne Boleyn and the Tudor Era, I would not have chosen Thor as my favorite Avenger, I would not have been compelled to explore the depth of human emotion after viewing Garden State, I would not care about actors such as Dustin Hoffman, Ashley Judd or Susan Sarandon and I most certainly would not have resolved to try to live my life with as much kindness and zeal as Novalee Nation. Having a difference in political ideologies seems so insignificant and unimportant compared to all her career has given me. It’s a nonexistent price to pay for becoming a better, more diverse, more caring and more understanding person.
So yes, I am very disappointed in the Golden Globes and Hollywood. Not for the first time and more than likely not for the last. But I’ll get over it, and you should too. I don’t look to Hollywood for how to think politically, so their endorsements and outcries are lost on me. I look to them to make me think, to make me feel and to make me grow as a person. I look to them to create art that compels me, inspires me and moves me on an emotional and human level, not a political one. I want to be more empathetic. They should try to be more empathetic as well. They should realize that not everyone thinks and believes like they do, and that’s more than okay. They should be open to more ideas, outlooks and opinions. If a nine year old can wrap their brain around this concept, I think both artists and patrons alike should be able to also.