Female artistes ‘unite’ for change in Cannes
‘Diverse & equitable’
CANNES, France, May 13, (Agencies): Hollywood stars including Cate Blanchett, Kristen Stewart and Salma Hayek called Saturday for equal pay in the cinema industry and beyond in a historic red carpet protest at the Cannes film festival.
Eighty-two actresses, filmmakers and producers marched arm and arm to demand equality and “a safe workplace”, seven months after the world was shaken by the #MeToo movement and the fall of mogul Harvey Weinstein.
The ranks included a battalion of Oscar winners from Helen Mirren and Marion Cotillard to US blockbuster directors Ava DuVernay and Patty Jenkins who made “Wonder Woman”.
“We demand that our workplaces are diverse and equitable so they can best reflect the world in which we live,” said Blanchett in a statement read out with the legendary 89-year-old French director Agnes Varda.
Blanchett, a double Oscar winner, said they wanted “a world that allows all of us in front and behind the camera to thrive shoulder to shoulder with our male colleagues.”
With Cannes under fire for its dearth of women directors, the world’s top film festival hoped to fend off some of the fierce criticism with the march.
The number of protesters was highly symbolic as it represented the 82 films by female directors who have competed for the top Palme d’Or prize since 1946 — a number dwarfed by the nearly 1,700 male contenders.
The star-studded group stopped halfway up the stairs to the Palais des Festivals to mark the obstacles they face in trying to reach the top.
“The stairs of our industry must be accessible to all. Let’s climb,” Blanchett declared, with some of the rally’s participants visibly moved.
The Australian actress also head the female-majority jury that will decide the festival’s top prize.
Several protestors including Stewart made a strong fashion statement by donning suits and tuxedos, in a show of defiance to Cannes’ red-carpet dress code which is often denounced as sexist.
Women have been stopped from entering premieres in the past for not wearing high heels.
Producer and activist Melissa Silverstein of Women and Hollywood hailed the event as a “massive milestone towards change”.
“An honour to share the carpet with @Ava (DuVernay) and all the other women who are pushing for more opportunities for women,” she said in a tweet after the march.
The protest took place ahead of the premiere of “Girls of the Sun” by Eva Husson, one of only three women out of 21 directors in the running for the Palme d’Or.
The film is the story of the Kurdish Yazidi all-female Sun Brigade who are fighting Islamic State jihadists in Syria and Iraq, where thousands of women were kept as slaves.
The protest comes at the first Cannes festival since the cinema industry was engulfed by the spiralling sex abuse allegations against Weinstein.
Cannes was the scene of several of the disgraced Hollywood mogul’s alleged attacks on actresses.
In response, the festival set up an anti-harassment hotline this year.
The number has already received “several calls” since the festival’s launch on May 9, said French Equality Minister Marlene Schiappa.
Cannes “must be a safe space for women,” she stressed.
Blanchett has criticised Cannes for once again failing to invite more female directors.
“There are many women on the jury but I wish there were more in competition,” the Australian-born star told French radio earlier this week.
The 48-year-old has emerged as a key figure in Hollywood’s fight against sexual misconduct.
One of the first women to call out Weinstein, Blanchett co-founded the “Time’s Up” movement to support abuse victims.
Her comments echo those of fellow actress Jessica Chastain who served on the jury last year and lambasted Cannes for its “disturbing” depiction of women.
Chastain caused a stir on Thursday when she revealed that she planned to make Hollywood’s first big budget all-female blockbuster with a cast including Penelope Cruz and Lupita Nyong’o.
Only seven percent of Hollywood blockbusters were directed by women in 2016.
France has the best ratio among the major filmproducing countries with 23 percent of films directed by women.
There were 82 women in total, a reference to the number of female directors who have climbed the steps of the Palais, the festival’s central theater, since Cannes began celebrating celluloid in 1942. In the same period, 1,866 male directors ascended the same stairs, Blanchett said in a statement, as the women linked their arms in solidarity.
“Women are not a minority in the world, yet the current state of the industry says otherwise,” Blanchett said. “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. We are writers, producers, directors, actresses, cinematographers, talent agents, editors, distributors, sales agents and all involved in the cinematic arts.”
After Blanchett spoke, Agnes Varda, the legendary French film director of “Faces Places,” added, “The stairs of our industry must be accessible to all. Let’s climb.”
The specter of Weinstein, the indie film producer who helped spark an industry-wide reckoning after being accused of assaulting or harassing dozens of women, was evoked during a 20-minute gathering that was both solemn and celebratory. Announcers at the demonstration said this new awareness has come about in the wake of “Harvey Day,” calling it “a terrible event” with important consequences. After Blanchett and Varda spoke, the assembled women erupted in cheers.
Festival organizers have been criticized for failing to do more to publicly acknowledge the #MeToo and Time’s Up initiatives. They have also been faulted for not promoting more female filmmakers. Only three of the 18 films in competition this year are from female filmmakers — a low number that nevertheless represents Cannes’ best showing since 2011.