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Whose Responsibility Is It To Move The Dial for Women Directors?

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by Melissa Silverstein
April 22, 2013 11:30 AM
11 Comments
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So now that the Cannes lineup is in the rear view mirror it's time for a moment of reflection.  I want to thank Mr. Thierry Fremaux the head of the Cannes Film Festival, for inspiring this moment.  He talked to Screen Daily following the announcement of the lineup and made some interesting points worth further consideration

Here's one of the questions he was asked:

There is only one woman in Competition. Were there really no other eligible female-directed picture?

If you count Un Certain Regard, there are seven women in Official Selection. Un Certain Regard is as important for me as the competition.

As I said at the press conference, the lack of women in cinema is a fundamental problem. As a citizen I think we need to fight it but it's not a battle I can wage as a Cannes selector.

I don’t select films because they are directed by women. The most important thing is the film – whether it be by a woman, man, old person or young person.

One can create a controversy around Cannes, use Cannes, but Cannes is not at the root of the problem. You can attack the festival but it does not solve the problem. It’s an easy way to discuss the issue without really doing anything about it.

There was the controversy last year and then in the 12 intervening months nobody’s actually done anything to tackle the issue. The upshot of all this is that if Valerie Bruni Tedeschi's film (A Castle in Italy) doesn’t go down well everyone will ask if we put the film in because she’s a woman. The answer is no – we put it in because we thought it was a good film.

Let's break this down a little.  

I agree with him the Cannes is not the root of the problem.  But Cannes is one of the problems.  The whole industry is full of problems.  Cannes gets huge press coverage and people pay attention to it.  For years nobody talked about the lack of women directors at Cannes.  Some years there were a couple, some years there were none, but nobody paid attention.  But now they pay attention and part of paying attention is holding people accountable.  Mr. Fremaux says that as a citizen that we need to fight it, but he also puts in the caveat that he can't do it as a Cannes selector.   Which citizens does he suggest to fight it?  

Then he goes on to say that since the controversy last year "nobody's actually done anything to tackle the issue."  

That makes me fume.   There was an unprecedented summit at the DGA.  There was just a panel at CinemaCon about women in the film business.  The conversation is happening at film festivals around the world, and lineups everywhere, not just at Cannes are being scrutinized.  

But it also makes me think, talking and education is one thing.  Clear forward motion is another thing.  And Mr. Fremaux inspired a good point - whose job is it to make this change?  Is it the job of the women directors?  Of film festivals?  Of film organizations?

The problem is that it is not just one person's job.  It is everybody's job.  It is up to everyone who cares about this to try and make change.  It's about telling your friends to go see women directed films.  It's about making people understand that seeing a film directed by women and/or about women will not be a painful experience and that you might actually have a good time and learn something.

But I'm not going to let Mr. Fremaux off the hook (and since I know I will never get to Cannes I am not afraid to be blunt)  His  arrogance is astounding.   In response to the question as to whether there were other films by women ready for Cannes, he said:

The thing about women is that - like men - they can make bad films. There are hundreds of men who were rejected and dozens of women too. We’re not going to take a film by a woman simply because it’s by a women – what an insult. Yes, cinema is male-dominated but it doesn’t make sense to only discuss it during Cannes.    

"Hundreds of Men and dozens of women."  Need I say anything else?  

FYI - Nobody wants you to take shitty movies directed by women.  How about not taking shitty movies directed by men?

But just the fact that Mr. Fremaux gave a full, and yes thoughtful, yet full of self righteousness answer about the issue means that things have changed. So by saying that he thinks nothing has changed he has actually made quite clear that it is no longer business as usual.

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11 Comments

  • Nanna Frank - Denmark | May 6, 2013 5:12 PMReply

    As a female film critic I am often wondering whether we – also -view films from a gender point of view.
    Fremaux is talking about choosing “the best film”. But what is that? How do we define, describe and talk about the quality of a film? How do we know, that he does not choose films for the competition that resonates with him? And I’ll repeat: with HIM.

    One way to meet this problem is to make sure that also women are represented in the selection committee. And in the juries. Heading the juries even. It is the responsibility of the Cannes festival (not by “worried citizens”) to take that step. Since Fremaux is acknowledging the problem that relatively few women are engaged in cinema (at least as directors), Cannes should act as standard bearers to not only articulate but also to try and change the state of things.

  • Nathan | May 5, 2013 12:49 AMReply

    A better question might be why does this necessarily have to be seen as a social problem to be solved? With a burden of responsibility and designated blame? I never hear straight men complain they are statistically under-represented in the fashion industry and interior design, Hispanics that they are discriminated against in pro basketball, blacks that there are too many asians in symphony orchestras, or Mongolians whining that Jews win a disproportionate number of Nobel Prizes. Sometimes you have unequal distributions of groups in certain fields.

  • Mother Shabubu | May 7, 2013 7:30 PM

    Interesting point. Is the lack of female directors due to women being prevented from making movies, or is it more a case of women –for whatever sociological reasons- not being as interested in making movies as men often are? The first scenario, if true, needs rectifying ASAP. But the second scenario raises some interesting questions. Should I really lie awake at night thinking about all the great art that would exist if it weren’t for the ambivalence or unrealised talent of potential artists?

  • Kathy | May 4, 2013 1:16 AMReply

    Fremaux should get the mansplainer of the year award. BTW, is there a French translation for the term, mansplainer? I'm sure La Barbe, the witty French feminist group that has done so much activism at Cannes, has a great answer.

  • Mother Hen | April 28, 2013 10:17 PMReply

    I agree, there need to be more women filmmakers in general. But I also wish a similar discussion was taking place regarding the dearth of filmmakers of color, no matter what their gender.

  • Diane Fitzpatrick | April 26, 2013 7:56 AMReply

    My first question to Mssr. Fremaux is how many woman selectors does Cannes use? I think that has a bearing on what films get in.

  • Maria Giese | April 24, 2013 12:21 PMReply

    Thank you for this wonderfully spot-on article, recognizing that we each much take responsibility for the staggering under-representation of women directors in the global entertainment industry-- €”not least of all Cannes' own Thierry Fremaux. Several arguments about the problem abound, but most common of all is the myth that there are not very many women directors in existence. There are 1,100 women directors in the DGA alone. The problem is that there are so few women directors WORKING. The numbers, in fact, are so low, that the American entertainment industry is in egregious violation of the US Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII. The intrepid Ms. Silverstein, champion of women directors around the world, is right that some of us are working tirelessly to mitigate the problem. Last month'€™s DGA Summit for women directors was an immense success and required at least 18 months of full-time work for many women DGA members (Google "Women Directors: Navigating the Boys' Club" to read what over 150 of America'€™s top women directors had to say -- Silverstein was the only media executive ANYWHERE who had the wherewithal to publish an article about it). What we learned, among many other things, was that if we women directors can unify and galvanize our determination to change the status quo, we could sue the hell out of the studios. A fifty million dollar studio payout in one year might seem tolerable, but another 50 million the following year, and the following year might not be so palatable. Perhaps then our industry would realize that they may not continue to act as an independent entity that can operate outside the jurisdiction of American civil rights laws (no different from organized crime). Since media is America'€™s most influential global export, it would behoove our nation's leaders to recognize that having nearly 100% of our media output come from the perspective of just half the population is not just patently unfair and unlawful, it also is resulting in unfortunate socio-political ramifications around the world. It's time to stop silencing the voices of half our country's citizens (those of women). Nearly every other industry is deep into solving the problems of disparity in gender employment. Why not Hollywood?

  • Lehcar | April 22, 2013 4:25 PMReply

    Thank you for this post. I agree - I think the idea - or sense of - of "This is everybody's problem" is key to forward movement. As you noted, there is forward momentum, dialougue being the first step, and from there, possible action steps and soultions can arise. As long as "we" all keep doing *something*, things will progress - sometimes quickly, sometimes not so quickly. As long as "we" just keep *doing*, we will move forward in progressive realization of a progressive ideal. I believe on of the things that counts is for women to keep writing, directing and making movies - and submitting their work to festivals.

  • Kate Chaplin | April 22, 2013 4:01 PMReply

    Thank you for the post. For years I felt lost as a female director but I'm now feeling like I'm on the right track. I did submit to Cannes this year and got a very considerate rejection letter. I also speak at film festivals and conventions about why there are so few female directors and real solutions on how we can change that. I see more films directed by women and share them with people. The perceptions in my small circle are changing and I hope it continues.

  • Do better films. | May 3, 2013 2:27 PM

    Stop complaining, the genre quota is over. do better films and shut up.

  • Lisann | April 22, 2013 12:35 PMReply

    Such a great post, with valid arguments. Thank you for this.

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