The Cannes Film Festival is an international film festival that previews new movies from various genres with the aim of promoting the film industry and raising awareness of international cinema. Since its founding in 1946, the festival has selected 1,866 films directed by men, but only 82 movies directed by women were entered into the competition. Unfortunately, despite the significance of movements like #TimesUp and #MeToo, problems of gender inequity and sexual harassment remain rampant both in the entertainment industry and in the lives of working class citizens.
To protest these issues, 82 women who attended the film festival marched up the steps of the Palais des Festivals, where the festival was held, on May 12, 2018. This walkout was necessary and significant due to the recent sexual assault reports against numerous men in Hollywood.
The rally was led by current President of the Jury, Cate Blanchett, who was joined by actresses like Kristen Stewart and Salma Hayek. Groups such as 5050 by 2020, an organization promoting equality and leadership for marginalized people in Hollywood, and TimesUp helped organize the demonstration as well.
The lack of female representation in the festival’s competition shows how the entertainment industry continues to favor old, white, and male filmmakers and denies a space for female filmmakers and other marginalized groups. As Blanchett said during the protest on the red carpet, “women are not a minority in the world, yet the current state of the industry says otherwise.” Women deserve to be recognized and appreciated, yet this remains difficult when blatant forms of sexism still occur.
Kristen Stewart also demonstrated resistance to the festival’s sexist culture by removing her heels while on the red carpet, breaking one of the festival’s major dress code rules. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, she said, “if you’re not asking guys to wear heels and a dress, you cannot ask me either.” This rejection of stereotypical, sexist gender roles allows women to exercise agency over their bodies while emphasizing the importance of gender equality.
In addition, many of the sexual harassment allegations against Harvey Weinstein, for instance, are thought to have occurred at the Cannes Festival in years past. This emphasizes the pertinence of the protest. This year, to create a safer environment and discourage harassment, the festival has introduced a sexual assault hotline for attendees to report instances of harassment or abuse. Together, the march and the hotline provide support for women worldwide, mainly in the entertainment industry, who have faced sexual abuse.
However, while these celebrities have the power to shift policies and ideologies towards equality and justice, it has been argued that their elite positions in society may limit the movement to only benefit privileged individuals. Because white, upper class women do not experience the same discrimination that people of color and working class women do, they argue that they are unable to accurately represent these people’s struggles.
Furthermore, high status individuals only possess multiple platforms to promote their fight due to a long history of marginalized people who have stood up and suffered before them. Essentially, it should not take a group of celebrities making a statement for citizens to resist oppression, as many people already accomplish this at the grassroots level.
That being said, social activism is significant regardless of what form it takes. Privileged figures like Blanchett and Stewart serve as role models for their audiences. Their involvement in these movements helps raise awareness and encourages discussion on historically taboo topics like sexual assault.
Additionally, at the rally, there were older women, such as French film director, Agnès Varda, and women of color like American movie producer and director, Ava DuVernay, who created a more powerfully inclusive environment.
Blanchett even acknowledged the fact that all women at the protest face unique challenges given their multiple identities. Although she refrained from explicitly stating what these struggles were, the absence of movies recognized and directed by women of color and other minority groups exposes the persisting discriminatory nature of the Cannes Film Festival and Hollywood as a whole.
In essence, the protest at the Cannes Film Festival remained exclusive in its representation of elite women in the entertainment industry, yet it ultimately encouraged equality, justice, and an end to sexual assault for all.