At the Critics Choice Awards on Sunday evening, Jane Campion won best director for her work on the revisionist western “The Power of the Dog.”
Within minutes, she had committed a gaffe, one that she would apologize for the next day.
“It’s absolutely stunning to be here tonight among so many incredible women,” Campion began as she accepted the prize. “Halle Berry, you have already done my speech — and really killed it, I loved it. You’re absolutely brilliant,” she said, referring to the winner of the #SeeHer Award.
“And Venus and Serena, what an honor to be in the room with you,” Campion continued, referring to the tennis greats who were there in support of Will Smith and the rest of the cast of “King Richard,” a warm family drama about the Williams family. “I’ve taken up tennis. I truly have. And Will, if you want to come over and give me lessons, I would truly love it. I actually had to stop playing ’cause I got tennis elbow. I’d also just like to give my love out to my fellow — the guys. The nominees.
“And you know, Serena and Venus, you are such marvels. However, you do not play against the guys — like I have to.”
When the camera panned over to Venus Williams, her grimace launched a thousand memes.
On social media, the angry reaction was clear. “‘No matter how far we come, we get reminded that it’s not enough’ — Serena Williams” read one of the top comments on YouTube, where video of the speech was posted.
“The Williams sisters actually have competed against men in the mixed doubles team event,” another commenter noted. “For those not familiar with tennis, this is when 2 teams consisting of 1 man and 1 woman compete against each other. So not only is Jane’s comment ignorant, it’s inaccurate and incorrect.”
On Monday, Campion apologized 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,” she said. “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.”