Since the Festival de Cannes seemed to be ground zero for at least one sexual predator (Harvey Weinstein), much focus as been put on the festival to change its ways, not just in terms of women’s safety, but by incorporating many more women filmmakers in the festival.
While there were only three female directors in the competition – or maybe because there were only three female directors in the competition – parity in the field was a recurring theme throughout the festival. Panels on women and the film industry were everywhere: the American Pavilion hosted a panel entitled Hollywood in the era of #MeToo and #TimesUp on May 16th. Moderated by Melissa Silverstein of Women & Hollywood, guests included casting director Pamela Guest, a casting director who is on the SAG-AFTRA board and part of its Sexual Harassment Workgroup; Yolanda Brinkley, creator of the Diversity Symposium, a short film showcase in Cannes and Dionne Audain, an actor who appears in a short film, “I Am My Own Mother” in the Cannes official selection. Not a part of the festival, Brinkley’s event aims to help those who feel as outsiders at the festival – and there are many of them – feel as though they do belong at this convention of the industry.
The talk at the American Pavilion was focused on protection of actors, at work and also at the casting level and, as its title indicates with a focus on the U.S. Hollywood system. For a broader view, there was an official panel in the Salon des Ambassades, inside the Palais, entitled Take Two: Next Steps for Me Too three days prior, on May 13. Melissa Silverstein was there again but she was joined by an international panel of woman and men. Alice Bahkuhnke, Sweden’s Minister for Culture and Democracy, talked about Sweden’s affirmative feminist government: for a number of years, that country has built parity into arts and media funding, for one thing. Still, she’s angry that this equality still has to be legislated – “we have to do this to make it happen,” she declared. Looking for the day, I suppose, when laws aren’t necessary. But I don’t think that day will ever come.
Anna Serner, CEO of the Swedish Film Institute, talked about determining the quality of projects they fund. They look at relevance, originality, production values and craft. So, not just “I have a feeling.” As they’re finalizing projects, they look at the percentage of women associated with the projects to see how they’re doing and then make adjustments, if necessary, to fit into the parity laws.
Stacy Smith, founder of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at USC (which has been studying women in the media issues for years), talked about many of the studies the Annenberg Center has done (on percentages of women in front of and behind the camera, for instance) and they follow up these studies to see if there’s any movement. To counter bias in the film industry, the Center has fought to have inclusion riders about hiring in all contracts – and they’ve won that fight.
She also spoke about shifting the perception of what leadership is, or even, how a good leader acts. And she pushed to do this early on in one’s career in the industry, or even before. She wants to foster belonging at film schools, to make everyone feel that they are wanted, that they belong. Good thoughts, but it sounds remarkably like speeches given a generation ago – and that only got us to here.
Filmmaker Aida Begilc, another panelist, made the most cogent commnet of the day: “Privilege is not visible to those who have it.” The one male on the panel, Cameron Bailey, Co-Head of the Toronto Film Festival, seemed to see privilege, but then, he is a person of color, so doesn’t have all the privilege! As for personnel at TIFF, he said it’s not difficult to have majority women on a staff, you just do it. His programming team boasts twelve females and nine males. At Toronto, they also question what is quality, as well as questioning the stories being told – are they coming from a diverse perspective?
Panels only go so far. To draw attention to the problem, 82 women in the film industry – actors, directors, sales agents, distributors – stood en masse on the red carpet of the Palais on Saturday May 12th before the premiere screening of one of the three female-directed films in the competition, Eva Husson’s “Girls of the Sun.” The 82 women stood in stark contrast to the number of men who have climbed these steps with films in competition over the course of 71 editions of the festival: 1,688.
With Cate Blanchett, the jury president, speaking in English, and veteran filmmaker Agnes Varda speaking in French, they read a statement that demanded diverse and equitable workplaces, in addition to more women filmmakers represented at the festival’s official programs.
Two days later, on May 14th, Cannes artistic director Thierry Fremaux, as well as the heads of the Directors’ Fortnight and Critics’ Week, signed the 50/50 – 2020 pledge to have equal representation of women filmmakers in their competitions by 2020. They also pledged transparency in the process. This all sounds promising, but they only have two years to do it; let’s see what happens.