Natalie Portman: experiences of “sexual terrorism” at age 13 changed me

Speaking to the Women's March in LA, the star detailed her experiences as a child actress

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 20:  (L-R) Actors Eva Longoria, Constance Wu and Natalie Portman speak during the Women's March Los Angeles 2018 on January 20, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Chelsea Guglielmino/Getty Images, BA)

Natalie Portman has revealed her negative experiences as a child actress, speaking at the Women’s March in Los Angeles this past weekend.

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The star, who made her silver screen debut in Luc Besson’s hitman drama Leon: The Professional at the age of thirteen, faced sexualisation by her male fans and members of the press at a very early age.

“I excitedly opened my first fan mail to read a rape fantasy that a man had written me,” she told the crowd in LA, which, according to mayor Eric Garcetti’s Twitter feed, numbered 600,000. “A Countdown was started on my local radio show to my eighteenth birthday, euphemistically the date that I would be legal to sleep with.”

“Movie reviewers talked about my budding breasts in reviews. 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 likened the behaviour to “sexual terrorism”, which forced her to adapt her behaviour.

“I rejected any role that even had a kissing scene and talked about that choice deliberately in interviews, I emphasized how bookish I was and how serious I was, and I cultivated an elegant way of dressing,” she said. “I built a reputation for basically being prudish, conservative, nerdy, serious, in an attempt to feel that my body was safe and that my voice would be listened to.”

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“At 13 years old, the message from our culture was clear to me,” 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 worthy of safety and respect. The response to my expression, from small comments about my body to more threatening deliberate statements, served to control my behaviour through an environment of sexual terrorism.”