Why Are There So Few Women at Cannes This Year?
3:30 pm, May 13th | by Colette McIntyre
The Cannes Film Festival opens this Wednesday and so begins the disorienting frenzy of celebrity and lavish red carpets that is awards season in Hollywood. There are twenty-one films being screened in competition this year, from the new Coen brothers movie that inexplicably features Justin “Stinky” Timberlake (#NeverForget) to Ryan Gosling’s highly-anticipated second collaboration with Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn. Coen brothers, Gosling, a James Franco-directed adaptation of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying — it all sounds fine and good and so very Cannes, except there is just one teensy weeny detail that is really stuck in my craw: out of those twenty-one films in competition, only one is directed by a woman. One: Valeria Bruni Tedeschi’s A Castle in Italy. Cannes, I can’t help but ask — what’s up with that?
To be fair, if we are talking about things that are “so very Cannes,” gender inequity would (unfortunately) fall into that category. This isn’t the first year that Cannes, one of the most prestigious festivals in the world, has suffered from a dearth of female-directed films: in 2012 as well as 2010, there were no, absolutely no films directed by women in competition. In fact, in the sixty-five years of the Festival, only one woman has been awarded the Palme D’Or; in 1993, Jane Campion was a joint winner with The Piano. After a womanless slate of directors was selected for competition for the second time in as many years, La Barbe, a French feminist group, supported by French actress Fanny Cottonçon and directors Virginie Despentes and Coline Serreau attacked the festival’s gender imbalance in French newspaper Le Monde: “The directors of the 22 films in competition this year are all, by happy coincidence, men. For the 63rd time in its existence, the festival will crown one of its own, defending without fail the virile values which are the nobility of the seventh art,” the women wrote in a letter ripe with sarcasm. “Above all we mustn’t let young girls get the idea that one day they could have the audacity to make a film and climb the steps to the palace on their own merit rather than on the arm of a prince charming.” In one day, an online petition attached to the letter had garnered 1,545 signatures.
When Festival director Thierry Fremaux, the man responsible for selecting the films each year, responded to La Barbe’s critique, he didn’t offer much comfort; “I select work on the basis of it actual qualities. We would never agree to select a film that doesn’t deserve it on the basis it was made by a woman,” he said. “There is no doubt that greater space needs to be given to women within cinema. But it’s not at Cannes and in the month of May that this question needs to be raised, but rather all year and everywhere.”
Of course Fremaux is right, cinematic gender disparity isn’t particular to Cannes; if anything, the festival is a microcosm of the larger, equally imbalanced film industry. But the inequity at Cannes cannot be explained away by claiming that women don’t want to direct. For one thing, while there is only one female-directed film in the competition for the Palme D’Or, there are six female-directed films in the lesser known Un Certain Regard category. As the Telegraph explains, Un Certain Regard is “the Championship to the Competition’s Premier League”; it credits “original and different” works that deserve recognition and has its own jury. So films by Sofia Coppola, Claire Denis, and four other women were good enough for the lesser-known category but not Fremaux’s precious Palme D’Or? And look at Sundance — half of the 2013 selections were female directed and from 2002 to 2012 Sundance films were almost 30 percent female made. (That includes directors, writers, producers, cinematographers, and editors.) As Policymic writes, “it’s not that women don’t want to make films; they are simply being relegated to the sidelines.”
So why does this imbalance exist? Well, in “Exploring the Barriers and Opportunities for Independent Women Filmmakers,” researchers at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California assessed 11,197 directors, writers, producers, cinematographers, and editors whose movies screened in Sundance between 2002 and 2012. This study, which is the most comprehensive analysis of gender disparity in the film industry, uncovered some ugly truths:
Women are more likely to be producers, and as the roles become more high profile and money becomes a factor, the number of women goes down. So women are more likely to be associate producers than producers. Women made up only 4.4% of directors in the top 100 box office films each year from 2002 to 2012. Almost half the women interviewed (43.1%) said that MONEY was the biggest problem. It’s about taking women directors seriously, it’s about taking women’s visions seriously. It’s about trusting women’s visions and that is still a major problem.
According to the study, mentoring and encouraging women early in their careers, increasing access to financing, and raising awareness of the gender disparity can all help female directors break into the boys’ club. And, while unmentioned by the Annenberg study, we must ensure that there is equality and diversity on festival selection panels. While Cannes’ competition jury is revealed every year, the festival’s initial selection committee remains clouded in secrecy. Whoever these jurors are (and I’m willing to bet that they are a bunch of men), they clearly do not value a female perspective in film; until that changes, I anticipate living through countless years of men walking away with the Palme D’Or at Cannes.