While we’ve been covering all of the fashion at Cannes, there seems to be a more unsavory undercurrent on the scene: in the 64 years of the festival, just one woman has claimed the most esteemed Palme d’Or award, and this year’s total lack of female directors in the awards’ lineup has sparked international backlash among feminists. Whether Cannes has provided warranted grounds for contention is still up in the air. A petition hosted on Change.org entitled “Cannes Film Festival: Where Are The Women Directors?” has garnered over 2,000 signees, with feminist icon Gloria Steinem, “The Vagina Monologues” playwright Eve Ensler, and award-winning Australian director Gillian Armstrong among them. However, last year’s nominations for the top prize featured four movies by women, while last month’s Tribeca Film Festival in Manhattan had a heavy female presence, with many of the event’s 90 films both focusing on female protagonists and directed by women. At the time, Daryl Wein, the director of “Lola Versus” starring Greta Gerwig, said, “It’s a moment happening now for women in film.”
On Sunday, the red carpet procedures at the premiere of Michael Haneke’s “Amour” were disrupted by a protest from the French feminist group La Barbe (“the beard”), whose letter grieving the male-dominated line-up was published in Le Monde and The Guardian newspapers. The interference bemused those whom it supposedly targeted: if one weren’t familiar with the plight, they may have found the message unclear — the five women arrived sporting fake beards and, in the evening’s torrential downpour, carried signs saying, “Marveilleux,” “Merci!!!,” “Splendide,” “Incredible!” and, finally, “Le Barbe.” A sardonic approach, yes, but is it Cannes who is truly at fault? The festival’s artistic director, Thierry Fremaux, espoused the fairness of his, and the rest of the committee’s, decisions in a statement that maintained “films were chosen ‘without regard to race, color, sex, language, religion, political opinion,’ or any other external factor.” Andrea Arnold, a British filmmaker who serves on this year’s Cannes jury, insisted that the bigger problem at hand is “the lack of female directors making feature films.”
Female actresses with roles in films eligible at Cannes are not exactly feeling the source of the furor. Jessica Chastain, who is featured in “Lawless,” was plain-spoken about the situation and its validity: “I think it’s silly … I think a film should be judged on the film and not on the sex of the person who directed the film.” She went on to note that a multitude of women are serving on the Cannes prize jury, and spoke in agreement with Arnold as far as the real problem being a lack of females in the film industry as a whole. Her co-star, Mia Wasikowska, concurred in that “at the end of the day, it’s about the best film.” Despite the asserted intentions, and the wish that detractors look at the circumstances through an industry-wide lens, it’s impossible to ignore the statistics and stipulations: Boston University film studies professor Roy Grundmann rehashed what everyone is thinking when he said, “Many film festival committees include women among their juries, but festival committees are ultimately just another part of our culture — and this culture is male-dominated.”
Conclusively, there is no conclusion. Sentiments on the topic, like many of its ilk, are and will continue to be divided.