Elizabeth Banks apologises after off 'color' criticism of Steven Spielberg

The actress accused the director of never making a film with a female lead, forgetting 'The Color Purple'

Actress and director Elizabeth Banks has issued an apology to Oscar-winning filmmaker Steven Spielberg after she criticised him during an awards acceptance speech for having never made a movie with a female lead.

Banks was speaking at the Women in Film’s Crystal + Lucy Awards, in which she made a number of pointed criticisms at the lack of female stories in the Hollywood studio system.

“I went to Indiana Jones and Jaws and every movie Steven Spielberg ever made, and by the way, he’s never made a movie with a female lead,” Banks told the crowd.

“Sorry, Steven. I don’t mean to call your ass out, but it’s true.”

It is not true; speaking off the cuff, Banks failed to take note of three of Spielberg’s features that have female leads: The Sugarland Express (1974), starring Goldie Hawn; The Color Purple (1985), with the film debut of Whoopi Goldberg; and last year’s The BFG, which featured Ruby Barnhill as Sophie.

In a career spanning four decades, Steven Spielberg has been credited as the director of more than 50 films.

The audience members at the awards show pointed out the error, with actress Shari Belafonte shouting to Banks to remind her of The Color Purple, an adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Alice Walker novel that was nominated for 11 Academy Awards.

Banks responded to Belafonte by first correcting herself, only to have another person in the crowd incorrectly state that Spielberg had not directed the film.

“Oh, so I’m right still,” Banks said.

A barrage of social media posts chastising Banks for failing to acknowledge the film, considered a classic tale of the lives of African-American women in the Deep South during the 1930s, caused the actress to release a statement taking responsibility for her words.

“When I made the comments, I was thinking of recent films Steven directed, it was not my intention to dismiss the import of The Color Purple,” Banks wrote.

“I made things worse by giving the impression that I was dismissing Shari Belafonte when she attempted to correct me. I spoke with Shari backstage and she was kind enough to forgive me.

“Those who have the privilege and honour of directing and producing films should be held to account for our mistakes, whether it’s about diversity or inaccurate statements. I’m very sorry.”

A three-time Emmy nominee for supporting roles in sitcoms, Banks made the leap from actress to feature film director with 2015’s Pitch Perfect 2. She is currently slated to direct the reboot of the Charlie’s Angels franchise, with the film set for release in 2019.

A publicist for Steven Spielberg said the director could not be reached for a comment on the story, with the director busy film his latest feature The Papers. The film stars Meryl Streep as Kay Graham, the newspaper publisher who took on the US government so that the Washington Post could publish the infamous Pentagon Papers on Vietnam.

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