Julie Delpy and the Cluelessness of White Feminist Entitlement

by Kimberly Foster @KimberlyNFoster

You can tell what degree of privilege someone holds when they believe sincerely that experiencing marginalization grants one some sort of elevated status. In the discussions of discrimination in which they cannot take part, the more privileged lament the lack of attention paid to their own struggles. They take any opportunity to recenter themselves lest for one moment their feelings not be the focus.

When intersectional feminists skewer white feminism, we are attacking this self-indulgence. It is the kind of thinking Actress Julie Delpy displayed when she turned a legitimate exploration of sexism in the film industry into an illogical rambling that attempted to paint white women as society’s most oppressed group.

At the Sundance Film Festival, Delpy told a reporter, “Two years ago, I said something about the Academy being very white male, which is the reality, and I was slashed to pieces by the media. It’s funny — women can’t talk. I sometimes wish I were African American because people don’t bash them afterward.”

Delpy seems to refer to the attention paid to Black actors and audiences who raised their voices in the wake of the announcement of the all-white nominees for this year’s acting Oscars. The #OscarSoWhite campaign compelled the Academy to take steps to change the complexion of the Oscar voting body. 

Without thought, Delpy erased Black women to strengthen her point. This is particularly egregious because #OscarSoWhite, the hashtag begun last year to raise awareness of the race problem at the Academy Awards, was created by a Black woman, April Reign, and with her star power, a Facebook video from Jada Pinkett Smith carried this story even further. 

Delpy, herself, has a gender problem. She’s privileged Black Male voices. Black women are at the center of this activism, yet they are stripped of their due in the name of justice for white women. They are unseen.

Those who experience more than one kind of marginalization are right to be leery of white women’s crusades for equality. They do not include us. When Patricia Arquette or Julie Delpy speak of a more just and equal world, they are not envisioning one in which they stand beside Black and Latina women. The multiple oppressions we experience complicate these discussions in ways they care not to address, so they’ve idealized scenarios in which we are not present because we are mere obstacles to their self-actualization.

Delpy could have made a gesture toward unity to tackle both the racism and sexism in Hollywood, but these white actresses do not believe these struggles to be fully recognized are connected. Their frustration stems from feeling like their rightful position as next in line is threatened. This is where White Feminism errs. Grievances of People of Color are viewed as an insult or an hurdle even to those who would benefit from greater visibility of discrimination. But the needs and concerns of white women must always always priority, and this underscores how individual they believe this fight to be. 

The actress noted the general antagonism toward feminism in her remarks, and she represents the most clueless, self-absorbed brand of liberation—one that seeks the status of white men not a transformative equality.

To be clear, Delpy is not entirely wrong. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is dominated by white men. But white women fare considerably better than Black people of any gender. Though Cheryl Boone Isaacs is in her third term as president, she is the lone Black person on the Board of Governors while there are more than a dozen white women elected.

No generative conversations about diversity can be had without first acknowledging the cover that whiteness provides. Black people within and outside of the entertainment industry launch campaigns, threaten boycotts and still are not guaranteed the kind of representation or recognition that women like Delpy get.  This was a rare and important victory as director Ava DuVernay noted in a series of tweets after the Academy’s decision was announced, and the change does not mean that the voices of Black entertainment industry professionals are not routinely dismissed.

These fights are not the same, and without a foundational understanding of the complexity of privilege, off-the-cuff, myopic comments like Julie Delpy’s are to be expected. Black women are tired of having to explain to that we are here and have always been so — that these oversights are deeply painful. 

The insular logic of white feminists like Julie Delpy must be deconstructed because they are hurting us all.

Kimberly Foster is the founder and editor-in-chief of For Harriet. Email or

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