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.