I wrote an article about Cannes last year highlighting some of the influential women who spoke out against the inequality that the industry, and the festival, was harbouring. I mentioned the slight improvement of statistics in the number of films directed by women and ended on a hopeful note that maybe this was a small step in the right direction…
Well things have certainly changed, but not quite in the way that I was expecting.
Once again a staggeringly low 14% of competing films were directed by a woman. That’s 3 out of the 21 total films. The statistic has actually decreased by 2% from last year. Not quite the move towards the future I had hoped.
What was ground breaking however was the courage and determination showed by the women who were present at the festival. Protests from 82 female directors on the red carpet representing the total 82 women directors who have had their work shown at Cannes in its 72 years. A visual representation of just how imbalanced the system is.
Photo Credit: INSTARImages
There was also the black female actresses standing together against racism in the French film industry  and many inspirational words from the festival jury’s president, Cate Blanchett.
“There are several women in competition, and they’re not there because of their gender, they’re there because of the quality of their work, and we’ll be assessing them as film-makers, as we should be,” she said.
There was also the signing of the equality charter , which promises to record the gender of the cast and crew of all films submitted, make public the names of selection committee members and work towards gender parity on the Cannes board. But there wasn’t anything about creating equality for the directors of films submitted, which is where the festival is really falling short.
The closing ceremony also went out with a bang when Italian director Asia Argento brought #MeToo into the conversation, reminding everyone in the room of the previous culture of Cannes, and the wider industry, and how it is no longer acceptable.
“In 1997, I was raped by Harvey Weinstein here at Cannes. I was 21 years old. This festival was his hunting ground,” Argento said. Her strong message left the audience subdued, probably because it was not only filled with previous victims but with previous perpetrators too, “…You know who you are, but, most importantly, we know who you are and we are not going to allow you to get away with it any longer.”
The Jury Prize award then went to Nadine Labaki’s Capharnaum, one of the only women this year to be awarded a prize and then it was all done and dusted for another year.
Ultimately whilst Cannes acted as a stage this year for many women to have their voice heard, it was never through their films. The defence was that the films are selected based on merit but this excuse has been around for years and we still aren’t seeing the gender parity that needs to exist. The problem with selection based on merit/quality is that it can be a subjective area that can be manipulated by sexist bias, even if its unconscious.
There are plenty of films out there made by women that are just as good as those made by men and festivals like Tribeca Film Festival have clearly be able to hit a large majority of female films in their line up. 46% of the festivals films are directed by women, which is over 10 times as many female directors as Cannes this year.
Yes equality won’t happen overnight. But there are examples where it is clearly possible to give women the spotlight they deserve and with a majority of women in the jury, the equality charter and a series of protests this year, hopefully 2019 at Cannes will look more even across the board.