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Jane Campion under fire for comment on Venus and Serena Williams' tennis prowess

“Venus and Serena, you’re such marvels,” she said while accepting the best director award at Sunday's Critics' Choice Awards. “However, you don’t play against the guys, like I have to.”
Image: Jane Campion
Jane Campion accepts the best director award for 'The Power of the Dog' during the 27th Annual Critics' Choice Awards at Fairmont Century Plaza Hotel on March 13, 2022, in Los Angeles, California.Frazer Harrison / Getty Images
/ Source: Variety

Along the road to the Oscars, becoming an Internet hero can be a fleeting accomplishment.

That’s what happened to Jane Campion, director of “The Power of the Dog,” over the weekend as she went from being championed on Twitter one night to being criticized the next.

On Saturday, the Internet crowned Campion their queen for responding to Sam Elliot’s crude criticism of “The Power of the Dog” on the red carpet ahead of the DGA Awards.

“He was being a little bit of a b----,” she said, spelling out the final word.

Campion also reminded listeners that Elliott is “not a cowboy” but is just “an actor.”

“The West is a mythic space and there’s a lot of room on the range. I think it’s a little bit sexist,” she said.

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Campion’s comments — and the way she delivered them — became instant internet fodder, to the extent that “Saturday Night Live” star Bowen Yang accepted the challenge to possibly portray her on an upcoming “Weekend Update” while walking the Critics' Choice Awards carpet the next day.

However, while accepting the award for best director during Sunday’s ceremony, Campion’s speech turned controversial when she commented on Venus and Serena Williams’ tennis prowess.

The remarks began innocently enough, with the filmmaker thanking her presenter, fellow New Zealander Taika Waititi and the Critics' Choice Association.

“It’s absolutely stunning to be here tonight among so many incredible women,” Campion said, holding her first of the Netflix movie’s four trophies, while the audience clapped and cheered.

“Halle Berry, you have already done my speech … and really killed it. I loved it. You’re absolutely brilliant,” she continued, praising the evening’s SeeHer Award winner before turning her attention to “King Richard” subjects Venus and Serena Williams.

“What an honor to be in the room with you,” Campion said with a hearty laugh, adding, “I’ve taken up tennis — I truly have — and Will [Smith], 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 saluted her “fellow, fellow, fellow” nominees — or “the guys,” as she called them — referring to the male directors in her category: Paul Thomas Anderson (“Licorice Pizza”), Kenneth Branagh (“Belfast”), Guillermo del Toro (“Nightmare Alley”), Steven Spielberg (“West Side Story”) and Denis Villeneuve (“Dune”).

“Venus and Serena, you’re such marvels,” she said, circling back to her earlier talking point. “However, you don’t play against the guys, like I have to.”

The comment received loud cheers in the ballroom, but perhaps louder critique on social media, where it was viewed as “cringey” at best and “arrogant and ignorant” at its most offensive.

It wasn’t so much Campion’s tone, which was light and joking like the rest of her speech, but the content of her words that felt disrespectful. Some noted that Venus and Serena Williams could not only play against, but most likely beat, the men in their sport, as Campion had just done. But most commenters simply questioned her decision to bring the Williams sisters and their tennis prowess into that conversation at all. One clip frequently used to express their displeasure came in the form of “Real Housewives of Atlanta” star NeNe Leakes’ classic line, asking, “Now why am I in it?”

Campion did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but following the Critics Choice Awards broadcast, the filmmaker and Venus Williams were seen together at Netflix’s afterparty. It’s unclear if the women discussed the moment, but they did pose for some photographs together and were spotted among the contingent of dancing partygoers, which also included Lin-Manuel Miranda, Maggie Gyllenhaal and the streamer’s CEO Ted Sarandos.

Either way, the awkward about-face comes just 24-hours after Campion went viral for responding to Sam Elliott’s crude criticism of “The Power of the Dog.”

During a recent guest appearance on Marc Maron’s “WTF” podcast, the actor — who most recently starred in the “Yellowstone”-prequel series “1883” and is known for his work in Westerns — criticized aspects of the Western thriller. During the interview, he called out the film for its “allusions of homosexuality” and questioned Campion’s knowledge of the genre.

She told Variety that she takes a more expansive view of the Western genre, and shared that she views Elliott’s take as a slight against her as a female artist.

“When you think about the number of amazing Westerns made in Spain by [director] Sergio Leone,” she explained. “I consider myself a creator. I think he thinks of me as a woman or something lesser first, and I don’t appreciate that.”