The women at the Cannes Film Festival made their voices heard at an extraordinary protest on the red carpet on Saturday evening, with Cate Blanchett, Kristen Stewart, Jane Fonda and Ava DuVernay among a group of 82 women standing in silent vigil ahead of a premiere at the Croisette.
Blanchett and French director Agnes Varda gave impassioned speeches in English and French, respectively.
“As women, we all face our own unique challenges, but we stand together on these stairs today as a symbol of our determination and commitment to progress,” read Blanchett and Varda’s statement.
“We will expect our institutions to actively provide parity and transparency in their executive bodies and safe environments in which to work. We will expect our governments to make sure that the laws of equal pay for equal work are upheld. We will demand that our workplaces are diverse and equitable so that they can best reflect the world in which we actually live. A world that allows all of us behind and in front of the camera to thrive shoulder to shoulder with our male colleagues.”
– Citizen Cannes TV (@CITIZENCANNES) May 12, 2018
“We acknowledge all of the women and men who are standing for change. The stairs of our industry MUST be accessible to all. Let’s climb.”
Varda is one of only two women in Cannes Film Festival’s history to receive the Palme d’Or — the highest prize awarded — along with New Zealand filmmaker Jane Champion.
The group stood on the steps of the Palais des Festival silently to protest how hard it still is to climb the ladder as a woman in Hollywood. The protests, part of the rising 5050×2020 movement was planned ahead of the premiere of “Girls of the Sun,” a film in competition by director Eva Husson, one of only three female filmmakers in the running.
That is an improvement over Cannes’ historical record. Only 82 films in official selection in the history of the Cannes Film Festival have been directed by women. The number of women participating in the protest was selected to match this figure.
Others involved in the vigil are Salma Hayek, Marion Cotillard, director Patty Jenkins and Haifaa al-Mansour, and agents including CAA’s Hylda Queally and activist-journalist Melissa Silverstein.
DuVernay and Stewart are on the jury. Fonda is at the festival for the screening of a documentary about her life.
Silverstein told TheWrap that the protest originated with the French group Le Deuxieme Regard and the 5050×2020 collective, working directly with the festival.
“They get all the credit,” said Silverstein. “I am honored to work with them to amplify the message about the need for more women in the competition at the festival. This feels like a very big moment.”
On the 5050×2020 website, the organization released a statement echoing many of those given by women involved in the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements in Hollywood, noting how the downfall of producer Harvey Weinstein has triggered a demand for change and calling for the French film industry to confront that demand.
“While French cinema wasn’t shaken by the Weinstein shock wave, it is essential that we move to take concrete action reaching beyond the issue of sexual abuse alone,” the site’s statement reads.
“We believe that the distribution of power needs to be questioned. We believe that equality restores the balance of power. We believe that diversity deeply changes representations. We believe that the opportunity to work in an egalitarian and inclusive environment must be seized because we are certain that the equal sharing of power will promote profound creative renewal.”
As TheWrap reported recently, the statistics for women in Cannes are pretty dismal: Over the first 71 years, a paltry 4.3 percent of the competition films have been directed by women. (See chart below.) Only one, Jane Campion’s “The Piano,” has won the Palme d’Or, though actresses Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux were given honorary Palmes alongside “Blue Is the Warmest Color” director Abdellatif Kechiche’s real one in 2013.
Admittedly, things are getting better. Of the 11 times that three or more women have placed films in competition, eight have come in the last 13 years. Three women made the cut in 2006, 2007, 2009, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 — and four did so in 2011.
This year along with Husson, the women in competition include Nadine Labaki with “Capharnaum” and Alice Rohrwacher with “Happy as Lazzaro.”