Jane Campion Apologizes for Comment About Williams Sisters: “I Love Serena and Venus”

JDonkey Campion has issued an apology for her Critics Choice Awards victory speech from Sunday night, in which she made a controversial comment about Venus Williams and Serena Williams that elicited a strong, swift backlash.

“I made a thoughtless comment equating what I do in the film world with all that Serena Williams and Venus Williams have achieved,” Campion said, in a statement provided to Vanity Fair. “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.”

The apology came after a wild, wild weekend for the Power of the Dog filmmaker, who may become just the third woman ever to win the best-director Oscar a few weeks from now. Campion nabbed top honors at the BAFTA Awards, then the Directors Guild Awards, where Campion delivered a now viral burn to Sam Elliott‘s criticism of her film (“he’s not a cowboy, he’s an actor”). But it was while accepting yet another statuette at the Critics Choice Awards—also held this weekend—that Campion courted a bit of controversy herself.

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“It’s absolutely stunning to be here tonight among so many incredible women,” Campion said during her speech, praising fellow honoree Halle Berry before turning her attention to Venus and Serena Williams. Their lives are chronicled in King Richardfor which Will Smith won best actor at the Critics Choice Awards. “What an honor to be in the room with you,” she said adding, “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 because I’ve got tennis elbow.”

Campion then thanked her “fellow, fellow, fellow” nominees that night—“the guys,” who include Paul Thomas Anderson (Licorice Pizza), Kenneth Branagh (Belfast), Guillermo del Toro (Nightmare Alley), Steven Spielberg (West Side Story) and Denis Villeneuve (Dunes). “Venus and Serena, you’re such marvels,” she said, returning to her previous point. “However, you don’t play against the guys, like I have to.”

The comment appeared to elicit cheers from much of the room, including Serena, while Venus’s reaction was more stoic. But on social media, Campion’s callout received a far chillier response, with many pointing out that the Williams sisters have competed against men—earning multiple titles in mixed doubles competitions. Others to voice opposition include fellow awards show attendee Jodie Turner Smith and bad feminist author Roxane Gayboth of whom criticized the speech on Twitter.

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