Agnès Varda & Cate Blanchett Speak at Cannes, Among 82 Amazing Women

Look at them! The five women on the Palme d’Or jury lead the way: Kristen Stewart, Léa Seydoux, Khadja Nin, Ava DuVernay and Cate Blanchett, with Agnès Varda and others.

In the clip below (from 9:02: the red carpet is also for Eva Husson’s new film, Girls of the Sun, ‘a suspenseful all-women war movie’; could there have been a better choice for this protest?), there are too many amazing #womeninfilm to identify.

The list of the 82 women on the steps, from Paris Match, includes Jane Fonda, though I can’t see her. But I did see Claudia Cardinale. I may have seen Patti Jenkins. I couldn’t find Iris Brey, the writer from Le Deuxième Regard, the activist organisation that instigated the 5050 by 2020 initiative which resulted in this protest.

Women & Hollywood’s Melissa Silverstein was there. It must have been a grand moment for her; she’s protested about Cannes since at least 2010. But you get just a glimpse of her enthusiasm now and then, on the far right of the second row, directly behind Annemarie Jacir and along from Wanuri Kahiu; she was, she says, the shortest person there except for Agnès Varda. Jane Campion was there in spirit, we’re told. And remembering her dancing on the red carpet a couple of years ago, I imagine Andrea Arnold there, too. And many more…

And it’s encouraging to see women politicians and from institutions like the Centre National du Cinéma et de l’Image Animée (CNC) leading the way up the stairs. This protest was supported at the very highest levels.

I’ve read some criticism. From prolific feminist activist-academic-poet So Mayer, whose most recent film book is Political Animals: The New Feminist Cinema and who is a founder and key member of Raising Films, ‘Making Films, Making Families, Making Change’, the British organisation that now has an Australian branch. She wrote–

“You know I am all for a more inclusive film industry, but there is something getting me about ‘Let’s climb’ as the Cannes protest slogan. Oh I know what it is: ABLEISM. Plus the elitist and hierarchical image of ascension. Let’s tear down the fucking stairs, install a ramp, a chairlift, handrails or just all sit together in the street.

** Also: F*CK 50/50. If there have only been 82 films by women filmmakers and 1,645 films by male filmmakers, that means it’s been 5:95 historically. So it should be 95:5 for the next 71 years. It’s not equality if it doesn’t level the playing field. **” (with a hat-tip to Mona Eltahawy’s I swear to make the patriarchy uncomfortable. And I’m proud of it: The more a woman is caught in the intersections of oppressions, the more her language is policed.)

And more criticism from another feminist activist-academic, Deb Verhoeven, who’s found that films with male producers, on average, have creative teams that are 70% male. Similarly, the average creative team for a film with female producers is 60% male. No matter the gender of the producer, key creative roles for men predominate. She says that–

“Accepting 50/50 as equity confuses it with equality, is not an adequate measure recognizing due reparation and generally shows a distinct lack of ambition. Also 50/50 of what exactly….redressing longstanding inequities is not a matter of ‘add women and stir’. Equity is not about making women countable. It’s about making dominant male behaviours (and the men and women who perpetrate them) accountable.”

D’accord. Absolument. To both writers. I also notice an awful lot of white women in the group. Who in Cannes might have provided balance but missed out on an invitation, from Asia or Oceania for instance?

And Melissa Silverstein herself has written

“This was a historic moment. But let’s remember and remind the folks at this festival and others: this is not the end. This is the beginning. This is the moment that this festival, which has marginalized women for so long, joins with the world to be a part of the change.

We will be watching and we will keep pushing. I was honored to be a part of this historic night. This showed how far we have come, but we still have so far to go. Onward.”

But. It *is* a start. And, even flawed, that protest is a beautiful symbol. I’m fervently hoping that all Aotearoa New Zealand politicians and taxpayer institutions take up the challenges presented. With enthusiasm. *And* integrate mandatory inclusion riders in every funding agreement they have: with industry organisations, producers and other projects, like film festivals.

And that, as they do so, they also consider and support new and better models of filmmaking; here, I’m thinking especially of the women of WARU and their powerful, highly effective, practices (see details towards the end of this link).

Here’s the full text read by Agnès and Cate

On these steps today stand 82 women representing the number of female directors who have climbed these stairs since the first edition of the Cannes Film Festival in 1946. In the same period 1688 male directors have climbed these very same stairs. In the 71 years of this world-renowned festival there have been 12 female heads of its juries. The prestigious Palme d’Or has been bestowed upon 71 male directors — too numerous to mention by name — but only two women — Jane Campion, who is with us in spirit, and Agnès Varda, who stands with us today.

These facts are stark and undeniable.

Women are NOT a minority in the world, yet the current state of our industry says otherwise. 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.

We stand in solidarity with women of all industries.

WE CHALLENGE our institutions to actively provide parity and transparency in their executive bodies and safe environments in which to work.

WE CHALLENGE our governments to make sure that the laws of equal pay for equal work are upheld.

WE CHALLENGE ourselves to continue to insist that our workplaces are diverse and equitable so that they can best reflect the world in which we actually live. A world that allows all of us behind and in front of the camera to thrive shoulder to shoulder with our male colleagues.

WE ACKNOWLEDGE all of the women AND men who are standing for change.

The stairs of our industry MUST be accessible to all. Let’s climb.

Marian Evans. Stories by & about women artists, writers and filmmakers. Global outlook, from Aotearoa New Zealand.

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