Lingering misogyny in old Hollywood institutions may by now be a familiar trope. More recently, however, the French feminist action group La Barbe drew international attention to similarly glaring gender imbalances in Cannes Film Festival’s 2012 lineup, and throughout the festival’s history. In a scathing manifesto entitled “The Cannes Film Festival 2012: a Man is a Man is a Man!,” La Barbe facetiously congratulates the festival’s president Gilles Jacob and the rest of its jurors for failing to include a single female-directed film among its 22 nominees for the 2012 Palme d’Or. The letter, published in French newspaper Le Monde, mock complained that the festival should “never let the girls think they can someday have the presumptuousness of making movies or to climb those famous Festival Palace steps except when attached to the arm of a Prince Charming.” More than 1,500 people lent their signatures to an online petition attached to the manifesto’s website. Melissa Silverstein, social media expert and founder of the “Women in Hollywood” blog, crafted her own petition.
Whether the media attention will amount to substantive change is doubtful, particularly in light of the unapologetic response given by the Cannes Film Festival’s artistic director Thierry Fremaux. While acknowledging the gender disparity, Fremaux deflected any immediate personal responsibility for addressing it, stating “it’s not at Cannes and in the month of May that this question needs to be raised, but rather all year and everywhere.” Still, he communicated no intentions of disclosing or reappraising the largely opaque Cannes selection processes over which he presides. Uproar after a Los Angeles Times article disclosed the “pale, stale, and male” Oscar jury demographics similarly subsided without any indication of change to come.
It seems as though festival leadership has little incentive to upend the status quo because the career-making prestige of festival nomination brings filmmakers to their knees, male and female alike. Even actor Ewan McGregor, who was invited this year to join the Cannes jury, refused to take a stand when prompted to reflect upon the dearth of female-directed films in the festival. Film industry players are seemingly too afraid of biting the hand that feeds them to take a meaningful stand. So what will it take to re-puncture the celluloid ceiling? Most likely, some bold solidarity from male industry big-wigs. Cannes can hardly be compared to Sudan, but who would object to a hand-cuffed Clooney, peacefully protesting on the red Palais des Festivals steps?