It was one of the strangest stories out of Cannes 2015, one alternately dubbed “Flatgate” and “Heelgate” (depending, apparently, on which kind of shoe you thought was more maligned) by members of the press and resulting in a flurry of back-and-forth regarding red carpet expectations and a long-standing black-tie requirement for some of the festival’s most glamorous events.
It kicked off with the premiere of “Carol,” when a producer with a foot injury was denied entry because her flat footwear wasn’t up to snuff, an oft-reported story soon followed by other anecdotes about women being turned away from Cannes evening screenings because they were not wearing sky-high shoes. Emily Blunt, at the festival for her “Sicario” was asked about it during a press conference, during which she offered up her own thoughts on the mini-scandal.
“Everyone should wear flats, to be honest,” Blunt said. “We shouldn’t wear high heels anyway, that’s my point of view. You kind of think that there’s these new waves of equality and waves of people realizing that women are just as fascinating and interesting to watch, and bankable.”
Soon, Variety reported that festival director Thierry Fremaux had attempted to clear up the requirements for Cannes red carpets, saying, “Nobody is obligated to wear heels on the red carpet. One of our agents screwed up, and we apologized right away.” (Too bad then that it was more than just one “agent” who had turned away women because of their footwear.)
Still, it’s been a persistent rumor for years that high heels are a requirement for women on the red carpet, and even a casual glance around evening screenings at Cannes reveal that most female guests are still sporting them. Not so for Kristen Stewart, who chucked her high heels at last night’s “BlackKklansman” premiere, either because she’s still smarting from the rumored flat-shoe ban or she simply got sick of wearing them on a rain-soaked carpet. (Stewart has never been one to stick to the dress code script, even at Cannes.)
Reasons aside, the optics of the actress and competition jury member kicking off her shoes and then ascending the red carpeted stairs of the Palais is not something normally seen at the festival and, intentional or not, offered up a striking contrast to the controversy from just three years ago. Stewart knows that, too.
Earlier in the festival, those same steps also played home to yet another sea change at the annual event, as 82 women (including Stewart) marched in support of equality at the festival, which has long programmed films directed by men over those directed by women. As jury president Cate Blanchett noted, 1,688 male directors have ascended those same stairs to premiere their films during the life of the festival, but just 82 women have gotten that same honor.
“Women are not a minority in the world,” said Blanchett. “Yet the current state of the industry states otherwise. As women we face our own unique challenges, yet we stand together on these steps today as a symbol of determination and a commitment to progress, we are writers, producers, actors, cinematographers, talent agents, distributors, and sales agents. All of us are involved in the cinematic arts. We stand today in solidarity with women of all industries.”
Two days later, Fremaux signed a pledge vowing to increase transparency and promote gender parity at the film event. The pledge “calls for Cannes to push for parity on their executive boards, compile statistics on the gender of the filmmakers and key crew members for all films submitted to the festival, and increase selection transparency by making the names of selection committee members public.”
Small steps, but steps indeed.