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Cannes Film Festival Slammed By Feminist Group La Barbe For Excluding Women Directors

by Melissa Silverstein
May 14, 2012 12:00 PM
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The French feminist group La Barbe which was started several years ago in response to the sexist media treatment of Segolene Royal in her race against Nicholas Sarkozy, has taken on one of the most sexist film establishments, the Cannes Film Festival for its exclusion of female directors from this year's competition.  They are kind of like the Guerilla Girls in that they dress up in beards and as they say "crash high level meetings to protest male supremacy."

They published a piece this weekend in Le Monde to raise awareness of the issue.  Here it is translated - reprinted with permission

The Cannes film festival 2012: a Man is a Man is a Man!

"What has changed in cinema? Everything has changed!" Exclaimed Gilles Jacob, President of the Cannes film festival, during the presentation of the 65th Festival de Cannes film nominations. ‘Everything?!’ For one second we trembled. But for no reason, it turned out, as the twenty-two officially selected movies -- happy coincidence -- were directed by twenty-two men. This 65th festival will therefore lead to giving the precious award to a male director for the 63rd time, thus unfailingly defending the masculine values which give the Seventh Art its nobility.

Only once did the Cannes film festival lose heart. In 1993, the Palme d'Or was indeed awarded to Jane Campion, a she-director - an obnoxious term which would corrupt any language as it does the great Seventh Art. And last year, doubtless due to a lack of vigilance, four women somehow sneaked themselves in among the twenty people nominated in the official competition. Thierry Frémeaux, Director General, correctly remarked, " It is the first time that there are so many women." How weak! All the more unforgivable as in 2011 the Césars displayed a dignified example by not selecting any women in the categories of " Best movie " or the " Best Director."

Sirs, you came to your senses and we are glad. The Cannes film festival 2012 applauds Wes, Jacques, Leos, David, Lee, Andrew, Matteo, Michael, John, Hong, Im, Abbas, Ken, Serguei, Cristian, Yousry, Jeff, Alain, Carlos, Walter, Ulrich, Thomas, who show us once again that "men are fond of depth in women, but only in their cleavage."

This exemplary selection sends a powerful message to professionals and audiences all around the world. Because what else if not the movies, what event other than Cannes, the most prestigious festival in the world, could herald this unchanging message? With great understanding of the monumental importance of such an event, you were able to dissuade women from aspiring to set foot in this well-guarded scene.  Above all, 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.

Is it not enough for them to aspire to be mistress of ceremonies someday during the Festival's opening night? Bérénice Béjo in 2012, Mélanie Laurent in 2011, Kristin Scott-Thomas in 2010, women are perfect hostesses, who are perfectly happy with a simple, " you have beautiful eyes, you know ", or other well-uttered compliments. Disturbing icons as well whom you manage to leave where they belong: on display. As you can see from festival posters: this year Marilyn Monroe is the one we celebrate, in 2011 Juliette Binoche, in 2009 Monica Vitti, and in 1989 the Republican Marianne.(feminine symbol representing the French Nation)  In 1976 the naked buttocks of a woman were honored. What could our muses complain about? They are celebrated for their essential qualities: beauty, grace, lightness… Let us preserve them from the torments of bossing around a film crew, let us spare them the painful confrontation with the technical puzzles of a film set. Why allow them to bore themselves in the Festival Steering Committee where important decisions are made, where only male presidents have ruled since its creation? Let us go on giving only men the heavy load of repulsive duties. Let us be even better than Hollywood where only 77% men still sit on the Oscars' Academy.

Women, mind your spools of thread! and Men, as the Lumière Brothers did before you, mind your film reels! And Let the Cannes Film Festival Competition Forever be a Man's World!

La Barbe !
(The Beard) feminist direct action group.

Sign the petition Cannes 2012: A Man is a Man and be a part of the effort to say that we are no longer going to take these affronts in silence.  That women's voices matter and that every time women are dismissed and ignored and not counted we will be there with out voices loud and proud to make sure that people know that this is unacceptable. 

And if you want to really get into it join the protest at this year's Festival.  You will need to wear a fake beard.  If you want to join the protest email:

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More: Cannes Film Festival, Sexism, Advocacy

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  • Marian | May 16, 2012 5:45 PMReply

    Thanks Debbie. Thanks Anna. I love seeing your statements here.

  • ArtGal | May 16, 2012 2:11 AMReply

    What I really got insulted by was the movie premise of "Sleeping Beauty" at the Cannes Film Festival. To show a young woman being sexually abused is not art in any way, shape or form.
    I may never bother to enter my movies at Cannes after that.

  • Kevin | May 14, 2012 6:09 PMReply

    So next year let's select films based on the diversity of the makers rather than the quality of the content, shall we? A film festival isn't really about the films.

  • Marie | May 14, 2012 1:29 PMReply

    In response to Ted: didn't they say the same thing, back before Title IX, about women in sport -that the % of living, great, performant women in sport was disastrous and hence the Olympic Game should not feel bad about excluding them? Isn't this true about every domain, from politics to science to finance? The question is what is so special about the art / movie world that makes it free of having to question gender and its power structure? Of course Cannes is just the tip of the iceberg, but highly symbolic and I don't agree that it is silly to blame the most prestigious and influential players in this men's game if you want to see some change.

    P.S. I am french and always admired the US for their Title IX initiative, their great basket ball female teams and games, the performance of their women athlete and how everybody there values their daughter's physical strength. We need this in sexist France!

  • Ted | May 14, 2012 3:47 PM

    I think sports are a bad counter-example because, assuming similar positioning in the distribution of ability, women are inferiors athletes to men. Put a WNBA team up against an NBA team and see what happens … That's not to say women can't be better than men in athletics, obviously even the worst player on the worst WNBA team could kick my ass one-on-one, but, on average, women are inferior to men in sports as a matter of biology. But I don't think anyone wants to say as a matter of genetics women are inferior to men in creative endeavors. I suppose this is possible, but the evidence in support of that proposition is fairly weak and difficult to interpret. Discrimination probably is a problem for female writers and directors in the big Hollywood system (or any countries corresponding "studio system") where it's mostly a boys club. But it's hard to argue simple discrimination is responsible for the enormous gender inequities in talented independent or small-scale film worlds. Agnes Varda was making incredible works of art in 1960s France, and surely simple discrimination has declined since then. I think the underrepresentation of women in most of these areas is actually explained by social conditioning of young girls. Western society has often taught girls that their primary duties are child rearing and household production. Yes, since a century ago, we now suggest it's perfectly fine for women to have careers, but our culture continues to make it clear that those careers are secondary to child rearing and household production (see female vs. male labor supply data in any Western nation). Making a great work of art - be it literature, film, painting or whatever requires enormous sacrifice - time, effort, personal introspection etc. Similarly in a very difficult theoretical subjects like physics or mathematics, you require a commitment of enormous time and effort. Great achievements are not made during your "free time" - they consume you as individual. Men are never taught that is a bad thing, whereas women have been told since birth that these achievements must come secondary to your household production duties. It's almost impossible for women to do both and the majority of women will give into these cultural expectations. It takes a very special women to not give in (in general, it takes a remarkable person to not give into widespread cultural expectations of any kind). Look at the personal lives of the greatest female artists. They are often very atypical (i.e. not married and no kids), or they are lesbians. Many times when they do marry and especially when they have children, you notice a remarkable decline in the quality of their work. There are exceptions, as there are with anything, but the rule holds quite true. Even look at the greatest female physicists and mathematicians, there personal lives are quite similar to great female artists. I suspect the only way to increase the quantity of great females in the arts and sciences is for social norms and expectations to not burden girls with the idea that child rearing and household production is their primary responsibility, and men should obviously be more willing to help so females can explore more of themselves outside of child rearing. Obviously there is nothing wrong with raising children, and if a women prefers to do that over making great art - that's perfectly fine! But we shouldn't culturally condition girls that men aren't expected to contribute equally to such actives nor should be culturally condition girls that such things are there primary duties in life and nothing else should take precedent. If men contributed equally to child rearing and household labor, I suspect we would see a lot more great female art. To bring it full circle, having Cannes let in inferior female artists isn't going to the help the cause. If anything, it would just perpetuate stereotypes that females aren't as talented hence they need a bit of help. Teaching young girls that there are alternatives and you can pursue great careers that require a lot of sacrifices, if you want to, and that this is perfectly acceptable will bring a female artistic revolution - but changing such ingrained social norms is very difficult and a long process.

  • Ted | May 14, 2012 12:29 PMReply

    So we are going to Title IX art now? Let's not worry about Hollywood for a moment and talk about truly great, artistic films - and let's be completely honest. What percentage of living, great, artistic filmmakers are female? And then what percentage of those are still making great films (e.g. ignore people like Vera Chytilova who have passed their peak)? And then what percentage of those remaining filmmakers are the type that even would want to go Cannes? Your list should be very small at this point if you are being honest. There are, of course, tremendously talented female filmmakers. But the numbers are much smaller than the number of talented male filmmakers. It's completely plausible that not many great female entries were submitted this year (does anyone believe if Claire Denis submitted a film, that Cannes would have rejected it because they are sexist?). I don't know why filmmaking talent is so heavily titled toward men. The standard explanations of discrimination aren't plausible because there have been talented female filmmakers working for decades, what makes them so special? There may be social conditioning or something in play that discourages females from directing or something, but that's silly to blame Cannes and expect them to Title IX their program.

  • debbie | May 16, 2012 1:05 PM

    Ted, my non-existent baby and husband are not standing in the way of my film career. And it's a big joke that I still don't know how to cook. My life is structured so that I am 100% dedicated to being a director and I have been banging on that door for years. I think the main problem is that people need to support you as a director, nobody gets there on their own. For women, that support is lacking. I've been to many screenings of both European and American male directors in their twenties. Producers line up and praise the male director's first short film. They tell the story of how everyone, agents, producers etc... wanted to be in business with this hot young male director. This never happens for young women directors...not ever. Financing is crucial and getting representation is essential. A state fund to finance films directed by women could go a long way toward easing the gender inequality, since the market refuses to acknowledge it exists.

  • anna | May 15, 2012 4:28 AM

    I am a female director and I vote for the British Academy. There is only one real answer to this: it is harder to get money for a feature film as a woman. Simple. Few dare utter this raw fact because they don't want to upset the money men but it is the hard truth. It is a business and we are seen as more of a risk. Will we deliver? Can we be technical enough? Will we hide in the portaloo and refuse to come out because we're too emotional? It is certainly not ambition that is holding women back as I know plenty of wildly talented female filmmakers. It is perceptions of what we are capable of that is holding us back. But what do you do if you're a woman? All you can do is keep going and aim to tell great stories. And encourage others to do likewise. If you can't get a gig directing, you write that script so you own the intellectual property and then you negotiate. If they love that story enough then you have a chance to maybe direct it, if the budget is reasonable enough. It is never easy to change a business culture. But business it is and we must never forget that.

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