Update (3:15pm): Jane Campion issued a statement via Variety on Monday where she called her remark about Venus and Serena Williams “thoughtless.” “I did not intend to devalue these two legendary Black women and world-class athletes,” she said, adding: “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.”
Previously: Jane Campion’s film The Power of the Dog is currently a darling on the award show circuit, and while I’m a fan of her work, her latest showing at last night’s Critic’s Choice Awards—where she accepted the award for best director—has evolved into boiling controversy involving two of the greatest athletes of all time: Venus and Serena Williams.
On Sunday, the Oscar-winning director’s acceptance speech started off fine as she joked about taking up tennis as a hobby and randomly invited the star of King Richard to give her lessons: “Will [Smith], if you want to come over and give me lessons, I would truly love it.” Then Campion turned her attention to the Williams sisters.
“Venus and Serena, you’re such marvels,” remarked the director. “However, you don’t play against the guys, like I have to.” The look on Venus’ face said it all.
To backtrack briefly, the Williams sisters appeared at the awards show to show love and support to the amazing cast of King Richard, which had Smith starring as their father, Richard Williams. The role saw Smith as the ambitious and loving dad who used the tennis courts in Compton to prep his two Black daughters for their global takeover.
Maybe Campion was overwhelmed by the glittery scenery. Perhaps she wanted to try out her latest stand-up routine! Either way, her speech did not land well. Social media lit up with criticism, calling Campion’s statements “cringey” and “ignorant.”
There was really no need for Campion to make a dig at Venus and Serena at all. She came off as another privileged white woman, so clueless in her fight for “equality” that she would even jokingly diminish the never-ending battle that two Black women dominating a prominent sport have been facing since their debut on the world stage.
Campion clearly hasn’t done her research or watched King Richard, because if she had, she would be fully aware of the overt racism that permeated the high-stakes matches that both tennis stars had to endure in order to retain their iconic statuses. Joking that Venus and Serena have had it easier than Campion because they don’t have to compete against men in their sport is just not funny or witty. It’s tone deaf.
Also, while Venus and Serena playing aren’t directly across the net from men, they certainly have had to deal with their fair share of misogyny. Just a few years ago, tennis great John McEnroe felt the need to clarify that Serena Williams is the “best female player,” but not the “best player in the world.”
“If she played the men’s circuit she’d be like 700 in the world,” McEnroe said. Thanks, John, that’s helpful.
Fast forward to now, and the Williams sisters have to sit in the audience at an awards show and endure a white woman making the same “joke” about them on stage. Next time, Jane Campion, just keep Venus and Serena’s names out of your mouth.