Jane Campion apologises for 'thoughtless comment' about Serena and Venus Williams

New Zealand filmmaker Dame Jane Campion has apologised for what she says was a "thoughtless comment" about tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams not having to play against men as she does.

The Power of the Dog writer and director made the comment during an acceptance speech at the 2022 Critics Choice Awards, one of many ceremonies this season in which she and her film claimed the majority of the major prizes.

Dame Jane was paying tribute to other successful women when she acknowledged Halle Berry and the Williams sisters, whose lives are depicted in fellow nominated film King Richard.

"I'd also just like to give my love out to my fellow - the guys. And Serena and Venus, you are such marvels. However, you do not play against the guys like I have to," she said at one point, referring to the male filmmakers nominated alongside her.

The Critics Choice Awards live broadcast showed Serena applauding, but Venus appeared uncomfortable.

At another point in her speech, Dame Jane said: "Venus and Serena, what an honour to be in the room with you."

After an outcry over her comments, a written apology was released to the media.

"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," said Dame Jane (via Variety).

"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. 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."

But Dame Jane is still being labelled "racist" over her comments.

Sun Times journalist Gene Farris tweeted: "The arrogance and ignorance of Jane Campion. Anyone who knows anything about Venus and Serena's careers wouldn't think to utter something this stupid and insulting."

"Jane Campion, daughter of famous New Zealand theatre director Richard Campion & actress Edith Campion MBE, explains the challenges of being a white woman from an established family to Venus and Serena Williams," added BBC journalist Megha Mohan.

"What Jane Campion said in her speech was not funny or appropriate. It was racist," tweeted film critic Carolyn Hinds. 

"White people laughing, and thinking it was valid shows why there's still so many damn issues in this industry. They're OK with the casual racism because they don't see racism the way we do."

Dame Jane and The Power of the Dog are the clear favourites going into the Oscars, which will be presented in a few weeks.

The filmmaker will be hoping the controversy doesn't diminish her chances of winning.