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Cannes 2012: Sexism Watch Continues

Cannes 2012: Sexism Watch Continues

One of the things I am proud of regarding the work many people have done to raise awareness about the lack of opportunities for female directors is how we were able to interrupt the narrative which is usually all about the clothes, stars and the glamour.   For example, look at what the women of La Barbe did last night.  They got up in the rain before the premiere of the evening and staged a protest in their beards and showed again that this issue is not going away.

The folks at Cannes would say that it doesn’t matter.  But it does.  The coverage that the La Barbe manifesto has received and the petition we created here at Women and Hollywood (which has over 2,000 signatures as of this morning) has led to many news stories and got people questioning how films get picked at the top tier festivals including Cannes.

The Festival officials no matter how much they wanted to ignore the issue, had to answer it.  Many times.  I wonder if they are ruing the day they asked Andrea Arnold to be a part of the jury, and if they might have had any idea they were setting up the perfect storm.  No women directors in competition and an outspoken feminist director.  Andrea Arnold went further than anyone on the jury has before in a mixed statement at the opening press conference, and while she did not fully commit to the fact they were sexist, she also made it clear she was not happy.   (I also want to remind folks the Hiam Abbas is also on the jury and she has also become a director and we haven’t heard a single word from her.  I would love to hear what she thinks of the situation.)

Arnold, to her credit, continues to discuss the issue because she knows it is an issue.  She was at an event over the weekend which The Guardian covered.  The paper mentioned to her that there were “allegation that unworthy films made by directors from the developing world, or from conflict zones, are included in the Cannes jury’s selection in spite of their low quality.”  Not being in Cannes I hadn’t even heard that allegation.  If that is true – WOW.  Arnold responded: “That is only one reading of what happens. I would say instead that the jury includes films that are political and have something to say.”  I don’t believe she thinks that women don’t make political films that have something to say.  She has made political films that have something to say.  Have you seen Red Road?

Over the weekend the board at the Festival stood behind director Fremaux and responded to the Women and Hollywood petition by using of all things The UN Declaration of Human Rights from 1948 to back their full commitment to diversity:

The Festival de Cannes — in order to maintain its position and remain true to its beliefs rooted in universal rights — will continue to programme the best films from around the world ‘without distinction as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status’,” the board said, quoting from 1948’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

All I could think when I read this is these guys are pissed and nervous because when was the last time someone trotted out one of the bedrocks of modern democratic civil society to show that they aren’t being discriminatory.  The best way they could have answered the charge would have been to release the list of the female directed movies that were considered.  This is what people want to see.  They want to see that women were not discriminated against.  After the list is revealed, then you can throw the UN Declaration of Human Rights around — but not before.

I guess we should thnak them because what their shortsightedness and hubris has also done is is to create is a new coalition of people from around the world who really want to push this issue and engage in a conversation about how things can change.   Social media will enable us to work together across many time zones.

But I just want to remind people that this is just the beginning.  We may have gotten some great media coverage and pissed off a couple of powerful people, but the work has barely just begun.  Onward.

Cannes 2012: Why have no female film directors been nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes? (The Guardian)

Cannes board brushes off sexism row (AFP)

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Barbara Masry

We need to contact as many festivals as possible to ask that they give consideration to gender equity when they make their selections.


You know someone made an interesting comment to me not to long ago as I was trying to raise money for my first feature. They said "if only you came from a family with money". I replied, "If I were wealthy, I never would have written this script". On some level it seems, film has abdicated it's role as art…to challenge, to provoke, to cause one to step outside their comfort zone. I'm constantly told, it's all about keeping the budget incredibly low, but packed with stars. Oh and you need initial equity as well. What they never say is that only the wealthy and very connected can do this. I think Cannes should think long and hard about whether they are promoting the status quo, as Europe crumbles. Not only by excluding the viewpoint of women, but of all the people of the world who have something to say.


Lynn Ramsey sooo should have been nominated for We Need to Talk About Kevin. Amazing film.


In 2011, films by Maiwenn, Lynne Ramsay, and a reportedly sub-par one by Naomi Kawase were included in the main competition. Additionally, Julia Leigh's Sleeping Beauty was also included in the main competition, despite it being her debut. No films from African or Latin American countries were included, despite strong reviews of films like Mexico's Miss Bala (Un Certain Regard) and Argetina's Las acacias (Golden Camera)

In 2010, no women entered the main competition, and only one film from Africa and half a film from Latin America: Biutiful, which is mostly Spaniard.

In 2009, three films by women (Jane Campion, Andrea Arnold, Isabelle Coixet) were included in the main competition, and absolutely nothing from Africa and South America. Arnold won the Jury Prize for Fish Tank.

In 2008, two women directors entered the main competition, and they were for South American films, thankfully. Africa remained non existent.

2007: Naomi Kawase, Marjane Satrapi and Catherine Breillat in the main competition. Kawase won the Grand Prize and Satrapi, the Jury Prize. Films representing Africa: zero; Latin America: 1.

2006: Main competition: Andrea Arnold's debut (Red Road – Jury Prize), Sofia Coppola and Nicole García. Africa: zero; Latin America: 1 1/2 (Pan's Labyrinth s also half Spaniard)

2005: no women, one Mexican film.

2004: Agnes Jaoui and Lucrecia Martel for the women… oh, and Kelly Asbury's co-directing credit for Shrek 2 (yes, Shrek 2 in the main competition, folks). 2 Latin American films, zero from Africa.

2003: Naomi Kawase and Samira Makmalbaf for the women. Nothing from Africa and 1 Latin American film.

2002: Nicole Garcia entered the main competition. Neither Africa or Latin America did.

2001: Catherine Corsini and Vicky Jenson's co-credit for Shrek (!) entered the main competition. Neither the whole African continent nor the whole of Latin America had such luck.

It is true that women are underrepresented in film festivals, but it's worth asking if it reflects sexism on the part of the festivals, or the lack of women directors (sexism in the film-producing and film-consuming world). Cannes is an easy target because of its notoriety, but historically it has also been a platform or at least a valuable showcase for women directors. Margot Benacerraf, Agnes Varda, Vera Chytilova, Liliana Cavani, Marta Meszaros, Jane Campion, Claire Denis, Lucrecia Martel (one of the great, if largely unheralded, contemporary directors, man or woman) and many others have been tremendously helped by the festival.

Cannes lives on trends, and that is why it is not democratic and mostly showcases films from Europe, the U.S. and Japan, with the recent addition of China, Korea and other Eastern Asian countries to the mix. In the 60s, at the height of the different new waves taking place around the world, it was more common to see films from Brazil, Argentina and Mexico competing. Africa has always been way underrepresented. Despite that, it won a Palme d'Or in 1975 for a film no one remembers, coz no one gives a rat's derriere about the cinema of such regions, even when it's good.

It's unfortunate that the 2012 selection After the Battle has played so poorly, but to use "unworthy films by directors from the developing world" as a counterpoint to highlight the lack of women directors is ridiculous. The "developing world" has and for a long time has had a lot of good cinema to offer, even woman-directed. That its themes, settings or lack of celebrity causes revulsion in the bourgeois, colonialist minds of writers, reporters and critics (not all, of course) is something that film festivals should not care about too much. I hope Cannes, Venice, Berlin et al continue to serve as an alternate showcase to the mainstream "Oscarized" fountain of mediocrity multiplexes feed on.

And yeah, women should be more represented, but quality should rule. The real question is whether many of the male-directed films from the U.S. or European protagonists deserve to be there. I suppose I can understand that a festival wants to show loyalty to its favored offspring (Audiard, Haneke, Kiarostami, Wenders, Almodóvar, Dolan, Seidl, Hong, Mungiu… and yes, also Campion, Arnold, Martel, etc.)

High School Diploma

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High School Diploma

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