It’s amazing the difference a year makes. At the Cannes Film Festival in 2017, producer Harvey Weinstein was schmoozing beneath the palm trees, promoting his film Wind River with Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen. There’s a photo of him manspreading on a sofa with Olsen, his knee just casually touching hers. The Mail Online headlined the story: “Elizabeth Olsen exhibits her enviable toned legs in glittering mini-dress as she attends the Wind River photocall.”
Cut to 2018. On the red carpet on Saturday there were 82 women, some of the most powerful in Hollywood, including Cate Blanchett, Kristen Stewart, Marion Cotillard, Jane Fonda, Salma Hayek, Ava DuVernay and Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins. They stood, arm in arm, representing the 82 films made by women that have been shown at Cannes over 71 years, compared to 1,688 films by men. “Cate Blanchett leads Time’s Up protest for gender equality in film as stars come together for gender equality”, wrote the Mail Online – although it did reveal her black dress was Armani Privée.
Jury president Blanchett and veteran French director Agnès Varda took turns to speak in English and French. “Women are not a minority in the world but the current state of our industry says otherwise,” began Blanchett, using the platform of the world’s most prestigious film festival to talk about the wider #MeToo and Time’s Up movement.
The red-carpet picture pinged glamorously around the world, but so did Blanchett’s message: “We stand today in solidarity with women of all industries. We expect our governments to make sure that the laws of equal pay for equal work are upheld. We demand that our workplaces are diverse and equitable so that they can best reflect the world in which we actually live.”
Although Cannes is the most rarified of occasions, if the filter-down effect eventually allows little girls to see female superheroes or astronauts on screen, that’s success
The latest protest, following those at the Golden Globes, the Baftas, the Oscars and Olivier Theatre Awards, never mind the ordinary women marching with Time’s Up banners in the streets, is a sign that anger and demand for change will not be going away any time soon. Post-Weinstein, the atmosphere in many workplaces beyond the film and media industries has changed; the conversation has changed.
Although Cannes is the most rarified of occasions, if the filter-down effect eventually allows little girls to see female superheroes or astronauts on screen, that’s success. A bidding war erupted at Cannes over Jessica Chastain’s spy thriller 355, written by a woman, which went to Universal for $20m and distributors round the world for millions more. Meanwhile Benedict Cumberbatch, now starring in the TV series Patrick Melrose, announced he would only appear in films if his female counterparts are paid the same.
Salma Hayek, who was bullied and harassed by Weinstein, also spoke at Cannes over the weekend, pointing out that the disgraced producer chose to retaliate by singling out herself and Lupita Nyong’o. “We are the easiest to get discredited... So he went attacking the two women of colour, in hopes that if he could discredit us, he could then maybe discredit the rest.”
Hayek said “we should have been angrier sooner”, but she noted that Weinstein’s shadow has also resulted in a dawning of light. “The predators are hiding and terrified. You feel it. It’s a very palpable atmosphere. But it’s a very exciting time for men now… [they] have the opportunity, which is so beautiful, to rethink what it mean to be a man.”
The question many women are asking now, after the exposure and the anger, is how do we keep the momentum going? What’s next? The Cannes protest was organised by the French feminist movement Le Deuxième Regard, and at a debate the morning after with the Women and Hollywood campaign there was discussion about making government tax incentives dependent on fair employment, and of the #5050by2020 pledge, to try to get equal representation on and behind the screen by 2020.
I wouldn’t get my hopes high for that happening any time soon at Cannes, but festival director Thierry Frémaux did sign a pledge today to record the gender of filmmakers on all the movies submitted to the festival, and to reveal who, exactly, was on the selection committee, which managed to only dig up three films by women this year out of 21.
As you might expect, the Swedes at Cannes were rather more radical, and the head of the Swedish Film Institute said if her country didn’t make diversity and inclusion targets, she would give all the grants in 2020 to women. She was backed up by a Swedish actress, Eva Röse, who said, “no more silence, just action”.
Cannes hasn’t taken any action over some of the more dubious names in its cohort of favoured directors, including Woody Allen and Roman Polanski. This year, it even welcomed back Lars Von Trier, who previously caused a scandal by making Nazi remarks at a press conference. That this is supposedly the crucible of the world’s finest cinema is questionable, on moral grounds if not artistic ones. No wonder those 82 women reclaimed the red carpet for themselves. And as Röse pointed out: “You don’t have to be an arsehole to create great art.”