Cannes 2021 : where is the diversity ?
© Festival de Cannes
Last week, the Cannes Film Festival has announced its Official Selection. As a huge Cannes lover, I have been waiting for this. The backlog of films due to the pandemic meant that it could be the most daring, diverse and unique line-up Cannes has ever known. The festival could take a commitment towards equality and diversity and lead the way.
Variety praised the diversity of the line up and the record number of women. Wait, what ? I was not sure I was watching the same event. It felt like they didn't get the memo on diversity and gender parity.
In this article, I am going to focus on the Official Competition because those are films competing for the Palme d'Or which is one of the most exclusive and prestigious prizes in the film industry. Out of 24 films, there are only 4 directed by women.
If you're wondering what Variety meant by 'record number of women', this is the highest number of women in the Cannes line-up. To me, this is a ridiculous number for an international film festival. This is as much as the number of films in which Léa Seydoux appears this year !
To add insult to injury, this is an all-white and mainly French line-up. It is less than 17% of the whole selection. There are five films directed by non-white men which frustrates me because when we talk about diversity and when we apply it, it always mean diversity for men first. Women always come second and that's enough !
15 films out of 24 are directed by white men which is the 'standard' of the industry which perpetuates sexism and racism within the industry. This year, the Selection Committee have received 2,800 films when the average is 1,800 films per year. This should have been the easiest way to pick diverse films and create a Selection that will go down in history.
But I suspect that Thierry Fremeaux has a bias towards who he sees fit for the Official Competition as a white, middle aged, privileged, cisgendered man. Cannes does not have any unconscious bias training and they do not have an equality and diversity policy.
I have discovered reading an Indie Wire interview with Thierry Frémeaux that the only thing Cannes has is that in case of a tie the film they would choose the one directed by a woman. To do that, you need more films directed by women and we are quite far from that. You might think I am harsh but it is because I believe in this festival and I think its time it moves with the times. I know they are trying to pat themselves on the back on how progressive they are with the Honorary Palme d'Or awarded to Jodie Foster for her work as a director and an actress. I know you are probably thinking it should make me happy to see more women acknowledged but quite the contrary.
If Cannes is acknowledging that women have amazing talent, why not give them the Palme d'Or ? Agnès Varda is a Nouvelle Vague legend who received the Honorary Palme d'Or in 2015 when she directed enough amazing films for any of them to have received the Palme d'Or. The reason she didn't ? She is a woman.
Women should not be limited to B-prizes with festivals feeling like they are doing their part for gender equality. Because they're not. Jane Campion was the only woman to have ever won a Palme d'Or. She is still the only one when she shouldn't be.
In case, Thierry Frémeaux and Pierre Lescure need a bit of inspiration to bring the festival in 2021 and not leave it in the dark ages, here are some ideas on what they could do :
- Respect the pledge you signed in May 2018 with the Collectif 50/50 that fights for gender equality in the film industry. The Cannes Film Festival was the first to sign it but now it's time to take action.
According to Variety, 'the protocol commits the festivals to greater transparency about the number of films submitted and the makeup of their selection and programming committees, and calls for an even gender split in senior management ranks'. For now, both the general delegate of the festival and the director of the festival are and have always been men.
- Have a gender equal and diverse selection committee. In 2020, the Selection Committee was made up of 5 women out of 11 members. It's nice to see that many women but they are all white.
The whole Selection Committee is white. Are we saying there are no people of colour in France ? No people from immigration and ethnic minorities ? I looked all of them up and the committee is obviously biased ! For diversity to be seen in the selection, it needs to start with the people choosing the films because the films exist.
- Have an unconscious bias training. I took part in an unconscious bias training with Screenskills and I am way more aware of discrimination and have more experience with it as a woman and an immigrant than anyone in the Cannes Film Festival Selection Committee so why shouldn't they take it ?
To efficiently tackle an issue and to find solutions, you need to be conscious of the problem and I am not sure Frémeaux realises how big and systemic the problem is. Hard work and perseverance from directors are not enough to break down the barriers.
- Have a diversity conscious policy because that's the only way to have results without waiting for centuries. One way forward could be to get quotas in. Acknowledging there is a problem and making sure you give people the opportunity is a way to level an already rigged playing field.
In 2019, 83 women took the steps of the Palais des Festivals to call for gender equality. 83 for the number of female directors to have climb the steps since the first edition of the festival in 1946. 83 female directors for 1,688 male directors. As Sanja Ravlic said in Screen Daily, 'unless we take affirmative action nothing will happen'.
Given that the festival thought it would be a great idea to give Alain Delon the Honorary Palme d'Or in 2019 after he made sexist and homophobic comments, I believe we need that kind of action to ensure things change.
- Have programs like 'Women at Sundance'. If you can take action for the climate guys, have a dedicated section on your website for gender equality and diversity and how you are tackling it.
'The best will make it' is an argument only valid for men since they are the only one competing on fair terms. We need to acknowledge there is sexism and other forms of oppression like racism, ableism or social background that means people might not get there. A disabled coloured woman has less chances than anyone else to make it in the line up and that's not because of a lack of talent.
For too long, festivals have been dominated by men whether it's in the line-ups or behind the scenes. We need to held them accountable for things to change and for film to survive. What is an industry that ignores most of its talents ? How long before festivals and the film industry become irrelevant and out of touch ?