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Natalie Portman on How the Time’s Up Initiative Will Work, From the Golden Globes and Beyond

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On New Year’s Day, a story in the New York Times announced the existence of Time’s Up, a multifaceted effort by influential women in Hollywood to address sexual harassment, as well as other issues related to gender imbalance, in the entertainment industry and beyond.

One of the influential women involved in that effort is Natalie Portman, the Academy Award–winning actress who, like many of her colleagues, will be at the Golden Globe Awards on Sunday, where many men and women will dress entirely in black as a way to bring attention to Time’s Up and the legal defense fund it has established to help subsidize aid for women and men dealing with workplace sexual harassment.

Portman spent a few minutes talking to Vulture about how she got involved with Time’s Up, what the initiative can accomplish, and why it’s happening now.

This effort really started with conversations among agents at CAA and grew from there. Can you talk about how you found out about it and got involved?
There were several women who started it. Agents, executives, producers, actresses, and then it just sort of blossomed from there and was very quickly several hundred women. I think everyone was activated so much by the courageous women who came forward with their stories and felt very much that they needed to do something that pertained to this systemic power imbalance that we feel is at the root of the harassment and the abuse.

How quickly did it go from a few to several hundred?
Oh, a week?

Yeah, it’s been very impressive how much this kind of shared space has been desired by so many of us and really speaks to the solidarity and the energy everyone is feeling around these issues.

There have been regular meetings as you figured out how all of this was going to take shape. What has been the tone and the discussion at these meetings? The issues you are dealing with are so massive and it seems like you’ve broken them down into separate efforts and committees. I’m wondering how you arrived at that organizational structure.
There are many different issues to address. We were very focused on the fact that workplaces feel unsafe for so many people, across so many industries, for women and men. Even more for the disabled, LGBTQ-plus, people of color — they all feel a different extent of harassment and abuse than women, even. It’s not only our industry, it’s every industry. So we really wanted to create an action around that that would be immediate. That’s why we started the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. That’s been our first focus, in terms of raising funds for that, so that women and men across all industries who don’t have access to legal aid or the funds necessary for legal aid can have that, so we don’t have this kind of power imbalance in the legal system, as well, that is creating retaliation for people speaking up, and this kind of bullying into silence that has endangered so many people.

So to clarify: The legal defense fund is not just for people who work in entertainment or media, it’s for anybody in any industry.
Exactly. It’s for people who cannot afford the legal aid, in any industry.

Do you know how much money has been raised for it so far?
I know that we are at $14.5 million after just two weeks of raising money. So far more than 7,000 people have donated. A million dollars has been raised just in the last two days from small donations of 5 to 20 dollars. We’ve gotten donations already from all 50 states and more than 60 countries. It’s clearly an issue that’s resonating with a lot of people. We know that it’s at Ford Motors, it’s in the fields among farm workers, it’s domestic workers and housekeepers in hotels, and waitresses and office workers. This is such a bigger issue and we’re so grateful to all of the women and men who came forward at great risk to themselves to open our eyes to the extent of this abuse.

Do you know how the legal fund will be administered? We know just from what’s happening on the entertainment side that there are potentially hundreds and thousands of cases that people might need help with. Is there someone whose job it is to decide who gets the money and what amount each person in need gets?
Yes. Tina Chen, who was Michelle Obama’s chief of staff when Obama was in office, is administering the fund so she is at the head of all of that, and of course there is a great need. We’re really trying to make as much money as possible for the fund and to continue supporting it for years to come, and grow its scope.

So is the fund your main focus, personally, or are there other aspects that you are working on as well?
Well, there are many actions that we’re taking, and this is the first. There will be more announcements as the year continues. We have a lot of things in action.

Right, there’s also the 50/50 by 2020 effort. [Note: This is a plan to have gender parity at the leadership levels of major entertainment organizations by the year 2020.] A lot of times when people talk about issues like this, things don’t get done because they don’t set a specific goal or a specific timeline. 50/50 by 2020 is very specific on both of those fronts. Is that a guiding principle as you go forward, to be very specific about what you want to achieve and when?
Yes. You know, the message [is] that we want a workplace and particularly positions of power, like boardroom seats — we want them to reflect the world we live in and represent the world we live in. We think all of us will be better off for it when all of us in our society have access and opportunity to hold those positions of power. Of course that’s talking about men and women, and it’s also talking about people of color, people with disabilities, the LGBTQ-plus community.

Do you have a sense as to whether people are more receptive to these kinds of systemic changes now, even more than they might have been six months ago?
I think that the extent of the abuse and the courage of the people who came forward has really opened the eyes of men and women across our industry and across all industries that make us aware that there’s a big problem with the power balance in our workplaces and that it’s time to make meaningful changes.

There are concrete things that have to change as part of that. If you want a board, for example, that’s 50/50 men and women, either you have to have more board members or you’ve got to have some men who step aside. Those are difficult decisions to make. Do you have a sense as to whether people are at the point where they can really make those changes?
I think men and women have been very energized to take action. I think everyone wants to change this culture that feels dangerous to more than half of the population. I think it’s a moment where a lot of people are listening, and a lot of people are learning, and a lot of people’s eyes are opening to conditions that we’ve lived with and accepted and we know are no longer acceptable.

The reporting on the Weinstein abuse really was the tipping point for doing something about all of this. Why do you think that was what pushed things over the edge? I’m also wondering to what extent the political climate outside of Hollywood has emboldened people to take action. Do you think that has made a difference, too?
I do think that this realization that this is across industries and maybe people we thought were very powerful and had a platform and had money and who have a lot of people who pay attention to their voice, which is not the majority of people who suffer this kind of exploitation and abuse — if they felt powerless and if they felt they were in a positions where they couldn’t speak and felt intimidated by this violence perpetrated against them, then we all realized how women who have less of a voice and less financial stability and less public platforms feel even more silenced and more intimidated by this kind of violence. Yeah, I think it was like you said, a tipping point to realize the reach of this kind of power imbalance was affecting people in our industry, in politics, in business and law and tech and restaurants — there’s not any industry where you don’t find this, practically. It’s been eye-opening, and again, it’s because of these incredibly brave men and women who have not been served well by our legal system, and thanks to the journalists who helped bring their stories to light.

I’m amazed by how many men, and good men, seem so shocked by how pervasive this is. Even before the Weinstein story broke, a fellow critic asked some of the women in one of our critics’ groups, “Hey, do you ever get rude or harassing comments online?” And we were like, “Of course. Every day.” He was really stunned by that, because he doesn’t experience it, or at least not to the same extent.
Right. Well, it’s like the Rebecca Solnit quote, which also reflected the hashtag movement: It’s only some men who do the harassing, but it’s all women who fear the violence and aggression. It has an effect like terror. It’s only a few people who are doing very bad things, but everyone is afraid to walk down the street alone at night and everyone is afraid that posting an opinion online is going to create a cavalcade of language trying to silence them.

Have you also seen younger actors — and when I say younger, I mean like teenagers — getting involved with the Time’s Up effort? Obviously you started out very young, and I’m wondering if some of the actors starting out young now are taking an interest.
Yes, we have women ranging from I think 16 to 80 in our group. We are hundreds of women of all different ages, all different areas of film, television, theater, all different disciplines — writers, producers, actresses, agents, lawyers — all from the industry. And branching out to new industries as well. That’s part of the movement.

Are you going to the Golden Globes on Sunday?

I know that the black-out effort is another thing that Time’s Up is spearheading. Are you expecting things to be a little different this year in terms of both the red carpet and what people might be saying in their acceptance speeches?
I think we want to show our solidarity with each other, with women everywhere who are experiencing violence and abuse in the workplace, and to bring attention to the Time’s Up fund, the legal defense fund, and try and drive more funding toward that resource for women and men.

Do you have a sense of how many people will be dressing in black?
I mean, I think we’ll see.

Natalie Portman on How the Time’s Up Initiative Will Work