Speaking about #MeToo and Hollywood, the actor says there is ‘something distasteful in the way women are portrayed’
Keira Knightley has criticised the amount of sexual violence against women in films, saying that she prefers period stories to contemporary-set dramas because, in the latter, “the female characters nearly always get raped”.
In an interview with Variety, Knightley was explaining her preference for “historical pieces” in the run-up to the premiere of her Colette biopic – set during the Parisian belle époque – at the Sundance film festival. “I always find something distasteful in the way women are portrayed [in films set in the modern day], whereas I’ve always found very inspiring characters offered to me in historical pieces.” She acknowledged, however, that there has been some improvement in “the last few years” as the Hollywood mood change has meant that “women’s stories are suddenly viewed as important”. She said: “I’m suddenly being sent scripts with present-day women who aren’t raped in the first five pages and aren’t simply there to be the loving girlfriend or wife.”
Knightley also expressed her support for the #MeToo campaign, saying she was “aware of the culture of silencing women and the culture of bullying them, and I knew that men in the industry were allowed to behave in very different ways than women”. She also pointed out that the problem goes beyond the film industry. “I was sitting with friends who weren’t in the [film] industry, and there wasn’t one of us who hadn’t been assaulted at some point. We’d never had that conversation before. That was an eye-opener.”
Knightley said she had never been assaulted on a film set, but had experienced it elsewhere. “In my personal life, when I’ve been in bars, I can count four times when I’ve been assaulted in a minor way. I think everyone has battled their fair share of monsters. It’s not just actresses. It’s teachers; it’s lawyers. I’m not talking about rape, but I’m talking about the people who had been grabbed in pubs or their breasts had been fondled by somebody they didn’t know or they’d had someone shove a hand up their skirt. For too long, you really did go, ‘Oh, this is just normal.’ It’s terrifying that was our response.”
She also said that, despite working on two Weinstein Company films, Begin Again and The Imitation Game, she had only had “very good” and “professional” experiences with Harvey Weinstein: “He certainly never asked me for massages or anything like that.”
Hailing the “wonderful” Lady Bird, written and directed by Greta Gerwig, Knightley decried the paucity of female directors. “I’ve worked with a number of female film-makers, and they’ve all been wonderful. They haven’t always found it easy to get another film off the ground even when the films we’ve done have been very well reviewed. It’s a big problem.”
This is not the first time Knightley has highlighted the issue: in the run-up to the release of The Imitation Game in 2015 she criticised the lack of “female stories” coming out of the film industry. “Where are the [female] directors, where are the writers? It’s imbalanced, so given that we are half the cinema-going public, we are half the people [who] watch drama or watch anything else, where is that? … I think the pay [gap in the entertainment business] is a huge thing, but I’m actually more concerned over the lack of our voices being heard.”