At the 2022 Critics Choice Awards on Sunday, Dame Elizabeth Jane Campion, a director, screenwriter, and producer, decided the best way to highlight her accomplishment was by taking a dig at two Black sportswomen.
In her award speech for Best Director for the film, The Power of the Dog, Campion said unprovoked, “Serena and Venus you’re such marvels. However, you don’t have to compete against the men like I do.”
Venus and Serena, who are on the awards campaign trail in support of their film King Richard, had their reactions captured immediately following the remark. Though only the sisters know what went through their heads and hearts at that moment, watching Campion’s speech leaves me cringing every time.
“You don’t have to compete against the men like I do,” was not only unnecessary, but it also negates the sisters lived experiences as Black sportswomen in what has historically been the very white space of tennis, and thus their encounters with racism and sexism in the form of misogynoir. When I say tennis has historically been a “white space,” I say so in the way that Dr. Elijah Anderson described them— spaces that are seemingly off-limits to Black folx.
White spaces, like tennis, are spaces in which Black folx are either absent, not expected, not welcomed or marginalized when present (2015).
It is fair to say that tennis constituted a white space for decades, and the changes that we have seen to that effect, are due in large part to the sacrifices made by Black sportswomen such as Venus and Serena.
With her words, Campions belittle all that the sisters have lived through, fought against, and endured with grace. Now, I am by no means surprised that this white woman carelessly and senselessly put her whole foot in her mouth. Rather I find it quite telling of the moment that we are in.
Campions remarks come on the heels of Naomi Osaka’s experience of heckling while playing at Indian Wells, the very same space where Venus, Serena, and Richard Williams were confronted with blatant racist remarks and abuse two decades prior.
Contrary to what’s being peddled, we are not living in a post-racial society, nor has sports managed to excise misogynoir, racism, sexism, or the many other ‘isms’ that exist within.
In the age of dog whistle campaigns against critical race theory, and targeted attacks against trans children and athletes, we cannot ignore the continuation of racial, gendered, and sexual tensions that exist within our society.