Women Rally on Cannes Red Carpet to Highlight Gender Inequality

Posted May 12, 2018 3:58 p.m. EDT

CANNES, France — Eighty-two women working in the film industry swarmed the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival on Saturday to denounce the gender inequality in their field.

Why 82? Because in the 71 festival competitions since 1946, only 82 movies by female directors have been in contention for prizes. This compares with a total of 1,645 films by male directors. Only one movie by a female director, “The Piano Teacher” by Jane Campion, has ever won the festival’s top prize, the Palme d’Or.

The 82 women — who included French filmmaker Agnès Varda and actresses Salma Hayek and Marion Cotillard — appeared on the red carpet for the premiere of “Girls of the Sun” by Eva Husson. Husson is one of three female directors among the 21 Palme d’Or contenders this year.

As songs including “Woman” by Neneh Cherry blared from the loudspeakers, the 82 women in evening dress walked up the carpeted staircase, then turned around to face the crowd.

Cate Blanchett, this year’s competition jury president, and Varda took to the microphone to voice the protesters’ concerns. Varda said, “Women are not a minority in the world, and yet our industry says the opposite. We want this to change.”

In an interview as she left the red carpet, Hayek described the event as a historic moment and “an important part of the conversation.” She added that as a producer, she was already seeing change in the appetite for projects by and about women.

Asked to comment on the shortage of films by women at the festival, Hayek said, “You cannot say it’s only the fault of Cannes.” Describing it as “a complicated equation,” she added, “Not that many women are making their films because they’re not being financed or greenlit or distributed.” It was the responsibility of the “entire industry” and not just one festival, she said.

Hours before the red-carpet march, Husson said the decision by the organizers of the festival to allow the women’s march to coincide with the premiere of her movie — the story of a group of female fighters in Iraqi Kurdistan taking on the Islamic State — was a clever move to highlight their inclusion of a film with a mostly female cast and crew in the lineup. She described the selection of her film for the competition as “political.”

The force behind the march, the collective 5050 in 2020, provided statistics on its website to support the women’s assertions. These findings showed that out of a total of 2,066 directors in France who had made one or more films between 2006 and 2016, only 23 percent were women. A breakdown showed that the figure rose to 29 percent when it came to documentaries, but was only 4 percent for animation films.

The team running the Cannes Film Festival has been fending off complaints about women’s representation for a few years now.

At the April 12 news conference in which he unveiled this year’s competition lineup, the festival’s artistic director, Thierry Frémaux, was asked to comment on the small number of films by women on the roster. “The movies that were selected were chosen for their quality,” he replied, adding that there would “never be positive discrimination” at the Cannes Festival.

He noted that on this year’s jury there were five women and four men.

Frémaux did acknowledge, however, that there had been a gender disparity in the selection committees that choose which films make it into the festival. He said two members of last year’s jury — actress Jessica Chastain and director and actress Agnès Jaoui — had asked him about the makeup of those committees.

“The committees were not balanced,” he said. “We saw to it that they were.” The festival did not respond to requests for details on the steps taken.