The leaders of the Cannes Film Festival have signed a gender equality pledge promising to make their selection process more transparent and to push their executive boards toward gender parity.
Cannes director Thierry Fremaux signed the pledge on Monday in a packed tent on the Cannes beach, along with Edouard Waintrop, artistic director of Cannes’ Director’s Fortnight section and Charles Tesson, artistic director of Critics’ Week. Watching from the front row was this year’s nine-member jury, including President Cate Blanchett, Kristen Stewart, Ava DuVernay and Lea Seydoux.
“We hope that Cannes will welcome these new initiatives,” said Fremaux. “We hope that it will reinforce the realisation that the world is not the same anymore. The world has changed.”
“We must question our history and our habits,” added Fremaux.
The pledge was drawn up by the French gender-parity group 50/50 by 2020, which brought in other groups including Time’s Up. The same international coalition was behind Saturday’s rally on the red carpet steps of Cannes’ Palais des Festivales, where 82 women protested gender inequality in the film industry.
“Women are not a minority in the world, and yet our industry says the opposite,” Blanchett said from the top of the Palais steps, alongside French filmmaker Agnes Varda.
Their number — 82 — reflected the number of female directors who have been selected to show their films at Cannes’ prestigious main slate. In contrast, 1,866 male directors have been selected in the festival’s 71-year history.
Cannes has come under repeated criticism in recent years over its poor record of selecting female filmmakers. Only one female director, Jane Campion, has won the festival’s top award, the Palme d’Or.
Of the 21 films in competition this year, three are directed by women. Saturday’s protest came ahead of the premiere of Eva Husson’s Girls of the Sun, which is about a Kurdish battalion of women soldiers.
Monday’s pledge also calls for the festival to compile statistics breaking down the gender of filmmakers and major crew members for all films submitted to Cannes. Fremaux said that 1,900 movies were submitted this year.
In the past, Fremaux has pointed out that the Cannes festival screens films directed by women at a much higher percentage than are made in the movie industry itself. Studies have shown that women directed 11 per cent of the 250 most popular movies at the US and Canada box office in 2017 — a figure only slightly above the same metric 20 years ago.
“Even if there is a higher proportion of women showing films at Cannes, we’re aware that it’s not enough,” said Fremaux.
Cannes became the first film festival to sign the pledge but it is expected to be followed by others.
Other film festivals have more aggressively pursued gender parity, including the Tribeca Film Festival, which touted its percentage of female filmmakers — 46 per cent — last month.
After the signing, filmmaker Rebecca Zlotowski noted it was Blanchett’s birthday, and attendees serenaded the actress with a rendition of Happy Birthday.