The women of the May 12, 2018 demonstration at the Cannes Film Festival. Photo: JustJared.

Cannes Film Festival Serves as Platform to Highlight Gender Inequality and Sexual Harassment

At the Cannes Film Festival in France, in the wake of the sexual misconduct scandal that has destroyed movie producer Harvey Weinstein’s career, women have come to the fore, calling for gender equality and an end to the sexual abuse women in the industry have fallen prey to for decades, writes Farah Nayeri in the New York Times.

On May 12, eighty-two women—including filmmaker Agnes Varda, actress Marion Cotillard, actress Salma Hayek, and actress Cate Blanchett, who is also the jury president for this year’s competition—hit the red carpet to criticize sexism in the film industry. (The reason there were only eighty-two women was symbolic, as it referenced the number of female directors who have been nominated for prizes since the festival started in 1946. By comparison, 1,645 male filmmakers have been eligible for awards over the last seventy-one years.) But their work is cut out for them: of the twenty-one films eligible for the Palme d’Or, the festival’s most illustrious prize, this year, only three were directed by women.

Despite the attention brought to women’s issues at Cannes, the atmosphere of the festival is problematic. Women are frequently sexualized and objectified, which causes their artistic prowess and other achievements to be overshadowed. “Cinema is a world that is founded on desire: the desire of producers and directors to make movies with this or that actress, the desire of spectators to watch those movies—and that desire is based, also, on physical attraction,” said Marlène Schiappa, France’s junior minister for gender equality. When desire is commingled with “power, visibility, notoriety, and money,” said Schiappa, it produces “a cocktail of factors” that can lead to all manner of trouble.

Thierry Frémaux, the artistic director of the film festival, acknowledges the film industry’s misogyny and the gender disparities of the Cannes competition. But he says that films chosen for the sake of fulfilling a female quota instead of merit is a kind of “positive discrimination.”

Nonetheless, changes are becoming more visible at Cannes this year: in the American pavilion, visitors to the festival had to sign a warning saying that their membership could be annulled if they were found guilty of sexual harassment. And a hotline to report harassment has also been started, fielding calls until 2 AM every morning throughout the eleven-day festival.