In the past year, the #MeToo movement has rocked the entertainment industry to its core. But at the 75th Venice Film Festival, which began Wednesday, little progress in female representation seems to have occurred in the last 12 months.
Like last year, only one of the 21 films in competition was directed by a woman. Jennifer Kent, an Australian director known for her critically acclaimed debut, “The Babadook,” will screen “The Nightingale,” a Gothic thriller about a young Irish convict seeking revenge.
The Hollywood Reporter asked festival president Paolo Baratta and jury president Guillermo del Toro during Wednesday’s opening news conference about whether festivals have a duty to make their lineups more diverse — not by enforcing quotas, but by reevaluating the way in which films are chosen. The clarification probably hinted at artistic director Alberto Barbera proclaiming after he revealed the lineup last month that he would quit if he “had to choose a film solely because it’s made by a woman.” Both Baratta and del Toro were well aware of the persisting gender inequality, but they differed in the intensity of their responses. Here, we break them down.
Baratta downplayed the culpability of Biennale, the Venetian organization that oversees the festival. Only 21 percent of the submissions his team received were from female directors, he said. And while he agreed to look into potential biases in the selection process, he called Biennale “an institution that has taken care of these questions years ago and has been transparent about its behavior since 1985,” the year it was founded.
Del Toro spoke candidly, calling out the entire film industry’s practices. The goal is clear, he said: 50/50 by 2020. Major Hollywood figures such as Meryl Streep and Shonda Rhimes have vocalized support for a movement of the same name that calls for leadership roles in the industry to be evenly split between men and women. The jury president seems to be doing his part — he said he is producing five movies, three led by female directors.
“I think if it’s 50-50 by 2019, better,” del Toro continued. “It’s a real problem we have in the culture in general. Many of the voices that should be heard, need to be heard. … It’s about bringing that in a significant way when conversation is in a significant stage, as it is right now. It’s beyond a gesture. It’s a need.”
In May, the 50/50 by 2020 organization hosted a discussion in which leaders of the Cannes Film Festival signed a pledge to improve gender equality and overall transparency. Jury president Cate Blanchett had led 81 other women up the steps of the Palais two days earlier to represent the remarkably low number of female directors whose films had competed throughout the festival’s history. That is 82 women in 71 years, compared with 1,688 men.
After the prestigious festivals in Cannes and Toronto vowed to improve female representation, a number of women’s organizations called on Biennale leaders to sign a similar diversity pledge. Their open letter, published earlier this month on the European Women’s Audiovisual Network website, is addressed to the Venice Film Festival and asks Alberto Barbera if he will work to ensure gender equality among competing directors and train his team to be aware of unconscious bias in the selection process.
“When Paolo Baratta or Alberto Barbera say that there are not enough women’s films and that this is a reflection of the broader film industry, they are also saying that this is not Venice’s problem,” the letter states.
Several sources report that the festival heads are expected to sign a pledge later this week, a small sign of progress for the world’s oldest film festival. (The Washington Post has contacted festival representatives for confirmation.) When last year’s lineup also featured only one female director, then-jury president Annette Bening, the first woman to take on the role since 2006, said during the news conference that the industry “has a long way to go, in terms of parity” but that she was confident the “direction we’re going is positive.”