The 27th Annual Critic’s Choice Awards brought out stars from film and streaming in droves for a glamorous night of recognition and shoulder-rubbing in Los Angeles on Sunday night.
Tennis legends Venus Williams and Serena Williams were in the building to support Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton for their multiple nominations for the biopic of their father Richard Williams.
Though neither sister was not personally nominated, they ended up becoming a hot topic of conversation on Monday morning when fans caught wind of film director Jane Campion’s on-stage mention of them.
While accepting the award for Best Director award for the Western psychological drama Power of the Dog, Jane Campion began a stream of consciousness expression of thanks, suddenly realizing the greatness she was in the presence of being in the same room with the Olympic gold medal-winning sisters.
“Venus and Serena, what an honor to be in the room with you,” Campion said to the sisters. “I’ve taken up tennis. I truly have, and Will Smith, if you want to come over we can do lessons. I would truly love it. I actually had to stop playing because I’ve got tennis elbow.”
Campion followed the tennis tangent with a recognition of her fellow nominees, or “the guys,” as she referred to them. The 67-year-old director was notably the only woman nominated in the directorial category.
“Venus and Serena, you’re such marvels,” Campion concluded. “However, you don’t play against the guys, like I have to.”
Unsurprisingly, Campion faced intense online backlash due to her dismissive and patronizing offhand commentary, made seemingly out of the blue and completely necessarily while accepting her honor.
For their part, the Williams sisters seemed largely unbothered by the comment itself and the subsequent fallout.
Campion, however, saw the error in her words and issued an apology. Via Variety:
“I made a thoughtless comment equating what I do in the film world with all that Serena Williams and Venus Williams have achieved. I did not intend to devalue these two legendary Black women and world-class athletes.”
“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,” she continued. “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.”