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Venice Jury President Annette Bening Speaks Out on Lack of Female-Directed Films: ‘There Is a Lot of Sexism’

The lauded actress acknowledges that sexism is still the norm in the industry, but she's also got some questionable advice for how to combat it on the creative side.

Annette Bening

Jon Rou - Loyola Marymount University

As this year’s Venice Film Festival bows, the starry annual festival continues to draw fire for a lineup that leans heavily towards the side of male-directed offerings. At this year’s festival, only one film screening in a competition section that includes 21 films is directed by a woman, Vivian Qu’s “Angels Wear White.”

Just yesterday, festival director Alberto Barbera spoke out on the demographics of this year’s lineup, making it clear that he doesn’t blame the fest for furthering an environment rife with sexism and a lack of opportunities for female filmmakers. “I don’t think it’s our fault…I don’t like to think in terms of a quota when you make a selection process,” he said. “I’m sorry that there are very few films from women this year, but we are not producing films.”

This year’s festival does have at least one major female star taking the lead, with Annette Bening serving as the president of the competition jury, making her the first female jury prez in a decade.

Bening has her own thoughts on the lineup and its demographics, sounding off at a recent press conference, where The Hollywood Reporter shares that questions about diversity continued to reign.

“I was thrilled to be asked to be here, so I didn’t count the number of films that were accepted that were directed by women,” said Bening. “No, I didn’t approach it that way.”

Yet, when asked about what festivals can do to offer more diverse lineups and to seek out the kind of talents not normally on display at such events, Bening had a surprising answer: “The more that we, as women, can make films that speak to everyone, we can be regarded as filmmakers.”

Bening’s statement — one that seems to indicate that female filmmakers should opt for more wide-ranging work if they want to “be regarded as filmmakers” — is an unsettling one, and one that places importance on the appeal of a film, versus the actual creative merit that fuels it. No, movies that are designed to “speak to everyone” aren’t automatically better, and they certainly don’t mean that their makers are somehow more filmmakers than others that create work that inspires them.

The actress did offer another insight, however, that stands in slight contrast to her “speak to everyone” comment, saying, “I think that we as women, we have to be very sharp and shrewd and creative ourselves about what we choose to make.” Still, that’s a statement that could apply to all artists, not bounded by gender.

At least Bening didn’t shy away from some hard truths about the current state of the world (and industry) and how she hopes it might move forward.

“And there is a lot of sexism, of course that exists. There’s no question. But I think things are changing,” she said. “We have a long way to go, in terms of parity — production, directors, writers, actresses, appearing in festivals and all of that.”

She added, “I think the direction we’re going is positive.”

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