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Cannes 2013 Wraps Up Another Festival Full Of Sexist Issues

by Melissa Silverstein
May 26, 2013 9:02 PM
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The Cannes Film Festival wrapped up Sunday evening with the announcement of the Palme D'Or and for a festival that continues to think and say that it does not have a "woman problem" this last festival proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that this festival has a major "woman problem." 

The festival set itself up for criticism again when they included only a single female directed film in the main competition and other women, including Sofia Coppola, in the Un Certain Regard section.  And while Thierry Fremaux tried his best to convince the public that Un Certain Regard is as prestigious, the media coverage shows us that he can say that all he wants, but no one is buying it.

While Cannes has clearly struggled with the woman issue for some time since only one woman (Jane Campion) has won --shared -- the top prize in all its history, in the last three years while I have been playing attention, it has almost become a farce.  They say they have no gender problem yet every indicator is that the gender problem has become one of the most important stories story out of Cannes.

And of course it's not just Mr. Fremaux who is the only problem.  What Cannes does is put on display for the world the misogynistic and backwards views that some of the most prominent male directors, and guests.  Of course we know that there are many male directors who are not sexist, it's just that Cannes doesn't seem to highlight them and granted, when someone says something so ridiculous, it's going to get more attention then a comment from a normal thinking person.

We already highlighted the disturbing remarks that Francois Ozon made about women and prostitution.  He has gotten himself into hot water as the interview got picked up and made its way around the world.  He responded on twitter that he was “awkward and misunderstood,” and: "Obviously I wasn’t talking about women in general, just the characters in my film.“  It's caused such a stir that the French Minister for Women's Rights, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, said this about the film: 

It's terrifying to trivialize, to give the impression that there is a casualness in prostitution. This is not true. Casualness and prostitution are contradictory.  This shows that it is also important that we hear the voices of women directors because women's views of women are not at all the same as those of men.

Then comedian Jerry Lewis said in an interview:

Comedy isn’t for women...

It’s the truth. I can’t help it...Women, it’s just wrong. I don’t care that the audience laughs at it and likes it. I don’t happen to like it. I have too much respect for the gender. And I think that they are wrong in doing it. I can’t expect them to stop working, but just don’t work anywhere where I have to look at it.”

But neither of those guys hold a candle to rapist Roman Polanski who continues to be lauded at these festivals and is given a platform to air his contempt for women.

This year he blamed the birth control pill for all the ails the world because it has made women more like men.  

It's a pity that now offering flowers to a lady becomes indecent, that's how I feel about it. Trying to level the genders is purely idiotic – the pill has changed women of our times, masculinising them. That chases away romance from our lives.

Taking a swipe at the pill which is such an important milestone for women's autonomy is a vicious swipe at all women, including his wife (whom I am sure has used some form of birth control in her life.) I wish we could just dismiss his comments as the rants of a bitter old man.  But we can't.  This guy continues to make movies, he continues to be lauded and it is disgusting.  

The sexist overtone of all these comments paint a very depressing overtone for this festival.  The people who run this Festival need to make it clear that these comments are unacceptable.  I cannot imagine anyone making a comment about gay rights or race relations in this way without being raked over the coals (like Lars Von Trier was) by other people in the industry as well as the festival leadership.

But the bottom line is that it is ok to say nasty stuff about women in 2013.  It's ok to demean women.  It's ok to say that women shouldn't perform comedy.  It's ok to say that the fight for equality is idiotic.  

We know this is not ok.  But the continued lack of respect of women behind the scenes, on the screen and in the general public just makes it clearer to people looking from the outside in that the festival for all it's glamour and supposed glory is just a graveyard for old men and old ideas.

Cannes: Director's Hollywood Reporter Interview Creates Prostitution Backlast in France (Hollywood Reporter) 

A Controversial Victory Lap for Jerry Lewis at the Cannes Film Festival (Washington Post)

Cannes 2013: Roman Polanski Says the Fight for Female Equality is a Great Pity (The Guardian)

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More: Cannes Film Festival, Sexism

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  • Martha | June 3, 2013 4:27 PMReply

    And the good news is: that we have contacted the management of the Majestic during the Cannes Film Festival and demanded that the hotel will be hooker-free for the time of the fetsival - as it is an insult to woman in general and us female filmmakers specifically. The Management look stupefait - not at the idea that its filled with prostitutes, but about the fact that we complained about it. We've made a point. We'll see next year: women winning the Palm d'Or, not for acting believably an orgasm on a film set - but for changing the world through cinema.

  • Reed | May 27, 2013 5:12 PMReply

    "Just a graveyard for old men and old ideas." You just described mainstream TV and movies today.

  • Akira | May 27, 2013 10:33 AMReply

    Will you people fucking drop it already? the more you acknowledge sexism, the more rapidly it amasses itself. They honored a 3 hour LESBIAN drama for the coveted Palme okay? As if that wasn't enough social support already. These awards are supposed to be directed towards the most worthwhile film, not some humanitarian effort for equality. Go bitch to your politicians instead.

  • Ted | May 27, 2013 1:04 PM

    Akira you are so mistaken. Ignoring a problem doesn't make it go away. Humans do. And until the men who run the film business see women as equals they will not treat them as such. The point is clear. The point must be made over and over again and until there is finally change.
    I'm sure you think Apartheid should have been ignored too.

  • roddymartindale | May 27, 2013 12:13 PM

    Yes, because ignoring prejudices ALWAYS makes them go away. If people had just ignored slavery, the situation would have righted itself ... even though it went on for decades and decades. Just like segregation did and "institutional" racism today. Those mouthy women, always making people more sexist with their mouthiness and stuff.

  • LostPevensie | May 27, 2013 9:24 AMReply

    I just feel sad. Nobody cares about the way women are portrayed in movies. Cannes which is supposed to be about quality movies gives us a misogynist feast. Every time I bring the subject with family and friends, many of which are women, they just rolled their eyes. A week ago I started watching Game of Thrones, the award-winning HBO series. I couldn't believe my eyes or ears. I am not a prude but this is way too much and too insulting. It doesn't matter that they sprinkled their misogynist salad with a couple of strong women who get to keep their clothes on. This is not history; it's fantasy. Game of Thrones is one of the most popular series in HBO history and many fans are women. I tried to find a movie theater to watch Girl Rising in my hometown and couldn't find one. But I can see the Fast and the Furious number 15. What's wrong with people, or is it me.

  • FGT | May 27, 2013 1:08 PM

    It's shocking how women are portrayed in film and TV. Nowhere is worse than on HBO. They have taken a HUGE step backwards. You think Game of Thrones is upsetting try watching Boardwalk Empire. It's a snuff TV show for women. They rarely make movies with female leads. One a year in house is what their quota is. VEEP and Girls are supposed to take care of the female thing for the entire network. Only one show is created by a woman on their entire network and that's Girls. HBO deserves more scrutiny from feminist media but sadly they ignore the obvious too.

  • Stinger | May 27, 2013 6:40 AMReply

    I have a list of best films for each year, and none of them includes a winner film by a female director. I also have a list of best novels for each year, and the female authors compose about half of the list. (Although there have been very great women directors, each year I just found a film by a male director better). I do agree that the absence of female directors is a worrying sign of sexism, but it is not the fault of Cannes Film Festival. Cannes Film Festival is supposed to honor the best films, not to make the world a better place or advance human rights. So it would go against its core mission to add women to line-up in some sort of Affirmative Action stance.

    When sexism is destroyed in cinema, Cannes Film Festival will have as many women as male directors. It is not Cannes which has women issues. It is the cinema. Go and fight producers and directing schools and culture which ends up. Solve the root of the problem.

    Asking Cannes to add women directors to line-up while the culture of sexism is still prevalent, it's like asking someone to clean the face of a dying man. The disease is making the dace look ugly, ugliness is not the problem.

    Also, while I completely agree what Lewis and Polanski said are awful, I think the real mistake was how people reacted to Von Trier. Freedom of speech means people have a right to have horrible opinions. Especially people like Polanski and Von Trier, if they were sane they wouldn't make so many great films, and honestly, I care for good films more than equality.

  • Stinger | May 27, 2013 6:47 AM

    OK, my last sentence was ill-advised and might be misunderstood. I don't mean it in the fact that "I think equality is not a worthwhile value and we should not pursue it", I mean it in the sense that giants like Polanski and Von Trier are such a great addition to the world culture and they deepen the humanity's understanding so much, that their greatness outweighs their crazy remarks and we must tolerate those remarks because these guys are extraordinary men.

  • Sara | May 27, 2013 5:07 AMReply

    These comments have been taken over by a misogynist. What' s sad is that when asking for equality (and believe me equality will be a long time coming in film and especially in this festival) is that people scream and kick and protest. It was this way for African Americans and gays. When women were trying to get to vote in the U.S. less than 100 years ago they couldn't ask for men to give them the vote. It had to be taken. Women had to say no more. That's when men listened and laws were changed. Men aren't listening and women aren't loud enough. The Cannes film Festival has made it clear they could give a shit about women. The culture of misogyny in film is as worse as its ever been. Men don't want to treat women equally as writers, directors and certainly not in terms of story. Look at Amy Pasqual -- who is one of the worst perpetrators of sexism. That Forbes interview is devastating. Men and women need to wake up. Film will be better for it. The world will be better for it.

  • How does this person have a job as a paid writer? | May 27, 2013 4:37 AMReply

    This is quite possibly the most poorly written article I've ever had the displeasure of reading.

  • NUTS | May 27, 2013 2:36 AMReply

    First time I come around here and last. You guys are worse than religion, luckily , it´s obvious no power is entrusted to the writer. The arguments show stupidity at it´s peak. Some brave women out there are giving the fight without bitching. Other LEACHES profit from spreading ignorance and making false dogmatic inequality remarks. Good luck in life

  • Joe | May 27, 2013 5:15 AM

    Nuts, why so hateful? Why the misogynistic rant? Would you write an anti-semtic, anti- gay or racist rant? Close to 52% of the population of the world are women and yet this film festival doesn't seem to want to include them unless they are actresses on the red carpet. The facts of the festival is very clear.

  • 4380y2348h234t | May 27, 2013 12:31 AMReply

    To be fair, "the pill" does chance A LOT of the chemicals in the body, including the one's in the brain.

  • lsdkgfj | May 26, 2013 11:23 PMReply

    It's only a graveyard for ideas if you discount this year's palme d'or winner.

  • JBB | May 26, 2013 9:49 PMReply

    Come on ladies, admit it. We all fantasize about being raped, mutilated, and murdered. It's part of our female sexuality.

  • Are you stupid or just brain damaged? | May 27, 2013 1:14 AM

    @Are you a sarcastic or just a troll

  • JBB | May 27, 2013 12:57 AM

    Yes, I'm a woman. And yes, I'm being sarcastic.

  • Are you a sarcastic or just a troll? | May 27, 2013 12:34 AM

    Somehow, I doubt you're a woman, unless I've missed the sarcasm sign. Also, "all"? Speak for yourself, please. I don't fantasize about any of this, and while rape might be a somewhat popular fantasy, I've never met any woman (or man for that matter) who fantasized about being mutilated or murdered.

  • JD | May 26, 2013 9:24 PMReply

    Nothing like an extra shot of female hormones to make you more "masculine."

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