One of the most moving moments of this year’s Cannes Film Festival happened not on screen, but on a set of stairs.
As celebrities began to arrive for the May 12 screening of , a film by French writer and director Eva Husson about an a group of Kurdish female fighters taking on the Islamic state, it was clear that this wasn’t going to be a normal red carpet. Instead, women from across the film industry linked arms and walked in successive rows towards the famed steps of the Palais des Festival.
The group of women, which included Cate Blanchett, Ava DuVernay, Kristen Stewart and Salma Hayek, then turned around and explained that the 82 women on the steps represented that in the 71 year history of the Cannes Film Festival, only 82 of the films selected were made by women.
*Let that sink in for a moment*
“We are 82 women, representing the number of female directors who have climbed these stairs since the first edition of the Cannes film festival in 1946,” said Blanchett, the festival’s Competition Jury president. “In the same period, 1,688 male directors have climbed these very same stairs.”
The same message was delivered in French by director Agnès Varda, one of only two female directors ever to receive the festival’s prestigious . By contrast, that honour has been bestowed upon 71 male directors.
“These facts are stark and undeniable,” said Blanchett. And tbh, they are also infuriating.
This is the first Cannes since what festival announcers described as H-Day, the day that the Harvey Weinstein exposé were released prompting an industry-wide push for greater diversity and inclusion. Saturday’s “women’s march” was a joint effort by Time’s Up and the 50/50 By 2020 collective with the support of Cannes. According to , the powerful visual statement will be followed by the film festival singing “concrete, strong commitments” on Monday.
Proud to climb these famous steps with these wonderful women in a call-to-action for equitable workplaces in our industry.
— Ava DuVernay (@ava)
After the demonstration, Cameron Bailey, co-head of the annual Toronto International Film Festival, told reporters that his team is currently working on figuring out how to reflect greater diversity in their programming. According to , he later stated a clear message on how to address gender inequality in the film industry. “It’s very simple; if you are in a position where you can hire women, hire women, it’s not any more complicated than that,” said Bailey.
The numbers quoted by Blanchett and Varda are depressing AF, and as they stood on the steps, these women also represented the change that is yet to come.
“Women are not a minority in the world, but the current state of our industry says otherwise,” said Blanchett, noting that this type of inequality extends beyond the filmmaking industry. “As women, we all face our own unique challenges, but we stand together on these steps today as a symbol of our determination and our commitment to progress.”