“I know I was sexualized in the ways that I was photographed or portrayed”
In yet another troubling denunciation of Hollywood’s treatment of child stars, actress Natalie Portman claims her entry into the film industry at the young age of 13 affected her in profound ways in part because she was “sexualized.”
Speaking with People about her new film “Vox Lux,” in which the actress plays a pop icon struggling with past childhood trauma, Natalie Portman spoke about her sexualization as a child star from people who should have known better.
“I understood very quickly, even as a 13-year-old, that if I were to express myself sexually I would feel unsafe and that men would feel entitled to discuss and objectify my body to my great discomfort,” she said. “I felt the need to cover my body and to inhibit my expression and my work in order to send my own message to the world that I’m someone worth of safety and respect.”
“I know I was sexualized in the ways that I was photographed or portrayed, and that was not my doing,” she said. “That becomes a part of your public identity.”
Portman previously revealed that her first piece of fan mail was another man’s rape fantasy.
The actress got her start at age 13 in “The Professional” where she depicted an orphaned teenage girl who expresses sexual feelings toward a much older man. While the U.S. theatrical release depicted the relationship between Portman’s character, Mathilda, and Leon, played by Jean Reno, as being platonic in nature, the European version suggested something more.
In one deleted scene, Mathilda tries giving Leon a kiss at a fancy dinner; in another much more troubling scene, her character offers up her virginity to him. While the pubescent Mathilda’s sexual desire for Leon was an arguably accurate portrayal (she came from an abusive household), the scene takes a disturbing turn when Leon rejects her sexual advances due to his lack of self-confidence from a past tragedy, not her sexual immaturity. “I won’t be a good lover,” he even tells her.
The Daily Beast notes that “The Professional” director Luc Besson based the underage storyline on his own life:
According to The Washington Post, Besson met the child actress Maïwenn when she was 12, the same age as Mathilda in the film. He was 29. They claim to have started seeing each other romantically when she turned 15. Maïwenn gave birth to their daughter when she was 16 (and Besson was 33), and subsequently relocated to Los Angeles. She appears briefly during the opening sequences of Léonas “blonde babe”—her listed character name—lying naked in bed, her body wrapped in sheets, having just serviced a middle-age crime boss.
“When Luc Besson did Léon, the story of a 13-year-old girl in love with an older man, it was very inspired by us since it was written while our story started. But no media made the link,” Maïwenn said.
Portman told people that her past childhood experiences played a big role in her interpretation of her character in “Vox Lux.”
“She is such a wild character, but she’s also someone I felt was a real person, who is the product of this life that has happened to her,” Portman said. “You see in this film how a young girl is packaged into this brand, and it’s kind of separate from her. I experienced a different degree of it, in a different way, and obviously I have very different support system than the character in the movie, but you see what the culture wants from you, or demands from you and wants to put out there.”
“It’s complicated to have your own private development and maturation alongside that [pressure] as a person, kind of having these double identities,” Portman continued. “And I think that it’s a big conversation about how many different kinds of things girls and women can be.”