Suggesting that even Natalie Portman’s scandals are both dainty and kind of dull, this weekend saw a sudden rush of controversy around Portman’s Oscar-winning performance in Black Swan after her ballerina double for the film, Sarah Lane, gave an interview to Entertainment Weekly claiming that the actress had only performed maybe “five percent” of the actual dancing in the film—and that producers asked Lane to keep quiet about it so as not to hurt Portman’s Oscar chances. The American Ballet Theatre soloist says that audiences have been misled about how much dancing Portman actually did—not least by her choreographer and now fiancé, Benjamin Millepied, who said in a recent L.A. Times interview that Portman did “85 percent,” and he’s already sleeping with her, so why would he lie?—but that many of those complicated sequences were actually Lane with Portman’s face digitally grafted onto her body.
“They wanted to create this idea in people’s minds that Natalie was some kind of prodigy or so gifted in dance and really worked so hard to make herself a ballerina in a year and a half for the movie, basically because of the Oscar,” Lane said to EW. “It is demeaning to the profession and not just to me. I’ve been doing this for 22 years…. Can you become a concert pianist in a year and a half, even if you’re a movie star?” (And off in the distance, we hear the first rush of hesitant scales being tapped out by James Franco….)
Predictably, both Fox Searchlight and director Darren Aronofsky have now stepped up to refute Lane’s claims, with the studio first issuing a statement that read, “We were fortunate to have Sarah there to cover the more complicated dance sequences and we have nothing but praise for the hard work she did. However, Natalie herself did most of the dancing featured in the final film." (Incidentally, much of Lane’s feeling of being jilted comes from being credited only as “Hand Model,” “Stunt Double,” and the walk-on role “Lady In The Lane”—so much of that “praise” is probably too little, too late for her.)
And today, Aronofsky took time out of not working on The Wolverine to have his editor count the shots, saying, “There are 139 dance shots in the film. 111 are Natalie Portman untouched. 28 are her dance double Sarah Lane. If you do the math that’s 80-percent Natalie Portman.” He continues by pointing out that if you factor in the duration of the shots, it gets bumped up to “over 90 percent,” and that the final, 85 seconds-long shot in the opening sequence is “completely [Portman] without any digital magic.”
Of course, people can come up with statistics to prove anything—40 percent of people know that—and Fox Searchlight probably isn’t helping matters by quietly taking down behind-the-scenes YouTube clips that reportedly showed the VFX team superimposing Portman’s face on Lane’s body, thus corroborating her argument. That definitely lends an intriguing aura of cover-up to a story that, for the most part, exists so that entertainment reporters can draw obligatory parallels between the plot of the film and Portman being usurped by her real-life double. But considering Portman won her Oscar primarily for all the other, non-dancing stuff in Black Swan, this “controversy” seems unlikely to significantly sully that—and if all Lane wanted, as she says, was a little recognition, then she’s definitely got that now, many times over. It is, however, slightly unfair to the women Portman bested in the Oscar race, particularly since Annette Bening spent an entire year as an actual lesbian for nothing.