The Cannes Film Festival drew criticism this week for largely omitting women directors from its programming. Out of the 18 movies competing for the festival’s top prize, only three of them are helmed by women – Nadine Labaki, Alice Rohrwacher and Eva Husson.
Not all news out of the south of France was bad, however. Actress Cate Blanchett will be the 12th woman to lead the jury in selecting the festival winners. She will oversee a jury that’s made up of mostly women. Joining Blanchett is director Ava DuVernay, actress Kristen Stewart, composer Khadja Nin and actress Léa Seydoux.
But is that enough to balance out the lack of women who are actually up for a prize?
Last year, jury member Jessica Chastain gave Cannes something to think about months before the reporting on Harvey Weinstein made it to print. The actress spoke out against the way women were treated or depicted in many of the selected films.
She advocated for more women storytellers, and many agreed with her on social media.
But this year’s crop of movies shows the festival isn’t getting on board.
“Our point of view is that the films are selected for their intrinsic qualities,” Thierry Frémaux, the artistic director of the festival, said. “There will never be a selection with a positive discrimination for women.”
There have been years where women have been shut out entirely from the main slate, and to claim it’s a decision made on merit alone overlooks the amount of privilege given to men in this industry.
Because they often lack access to the right mentors, agents or producers, women are punished a second time, barred from one of the most prestigious festivals. Competitions like the Sundance Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival have become much more aware of the disparities in their programming.
Cannes sets the tone for many other film competitions around the world, and for the organization to not take women seriously is disappointing.
Is there gender equality among its programming and screening ranks? Programmers and selection committees are just as important as the celeb-filled juries, perhaps even more so, as they hold the gatekeeping power. They are the ones that get these movies in front of press, industry and regular festival-goers.
It’s time to de-mystify how these movies are chosen from up high if we want to address the issue of inequality in movies.