Known for championing independent cinema, and for having a jury capable of awarding critical acclaim with the simple swoop of a pen, Cannes Film Festival attracts international attention each year. This time around, the prestigious affair was another event in a long line of many to see the inspirational Time’s Up movement sweep the red carpet. Since the accusations concerning Harvey Weinstein erupted, women, the LGBT+ community, people of colour, and a whole host of activists have been taking to the red carpet to protest violence against women and voice their disdain for the way film industry currently represents those who aren’t straight, white, heterosexual, and male. The roaring success of films like Lady Bird, Call Me by Your Name, and Moonlight have been a welcome diverge away from the standard format of film. Thankfully, their directors and stars have been championing women’s rights, LGBT+ rights, and the rights of people of colour at their premieres in impressive numbers.
Needless to say, the film industry over the past few years has undergone massive changes; many production companies are now including diversity quotas and adopting inclusion riders in order to enforce diversity and equal opportunity, and the most visible changes have been in the protests that have taken place on the carpets themselves. At Cannes, Kristen Stewart ditched her heels in defiance of the archaic rule that states women must wear heels on the carpet (to be honest, it baffles me that this is still a big deal). It instantly made headlines – women in the past who have refused to wear heels have simply been barred from attending the festival. This year’s festival has also seen one of its most diverse juries yet; featuring Ava Duvernay, Lea Seydoux, Chang Chen and Kristen Stewart, as well as being headed by Cate Blanchett. Additionally, 82 women gathered on the festival steps to represent the 82 women who have had their films included in the line-up at Cannes in its 71-year history. “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,” Cate Blanchett said, reading a statement written by herself and Agnes Varda. “We are writers, we are producers, we are directors, actresses, cinematographers, talent agents, editors, distributors, sales agents, and all of us are involved in the cinematic arts. And we stand today in solidarity with women of all industries.” It’s fantastic and inspiring to see Blanchett be so outspoken in her support for women’s rights across the board.
Days later, 16 BAME performers took to the same carpet in protest of the racism they have faced in the film industry, claiming they were “moved to act by the spirit of the times”. The arts have always been a political playing field. From The Sex Pistols to Get Out, statements have always been made in the arts. The art is the provocation that produces the conversation, and this has been proven true time and time again over this year’s festival circuit.
But this conversation isn’t just about celebrity and the glitz and glamour of red carpets. It’s affecting lives in incredibly personal ways. For young people like me who are dreaming of careers in film, seeing such a public shift towards keeping minorities safe and making the industry more accessible must only bolster their ambition. For the grips, the gaffers, the camera operators, the runners, and all the other indispensable members of a film crew, these slow but sure changes must only be welcomed with open arms.
Furthermore, Octavia Spencer spoke of a conversation a while ago she’d had with Jessica Chastain, where they discussed the gender pay gap. Spencer let Chastain know about racial disparity as well as the gender one, too. She went on to describe Chastain’s willingness to tie their wages together so that there wasn’t a racial pay gap as well as a gender pay gap, and it’s been hailed as an example of using your privilege for good, and it also made me cry. It’s incredible to see so many women supporting each other, taking a seat and listening when they need to, and speaking up when they need to. In the best possible way, it seems like we’ve stopped being patient. It feels like we’ve all just unanimously agreed that enough is enough. Even small acts of defiance accumulate, like Kristen Stewart’s, and have ripple effects.
It’s hard to not come to the conclusion that this is what happens when we let women do their thing, but seriously, this is what happens when we let women do their thing. Since more and more women have been welcomed into higher positions of power within the film industry, more representative films have been funded. The most obvious example of this is Reese Witherspoon starting her own production company, then producing Wild – a film about a woman finding herself that doesn’t feature a defining love interest. Positive change is happening, industries are being reshaped for the better, and spaces are becoming more inclusionary and more accepting. There are still many TERFs, many racists, and many exclusionary spaces. Woody Allen still gets his films funded. Roman Polanski’s only just been expelled from The Academy. Many harassers and abusers are yet to be outed and face justice. The fight for equality has always been a long slog, and it’s always been a process, not an overnight change. But we are seeing doors be opened and stay open. Cate Blanchett finished her speech at Cannes by saying, “the stairs of our industry must be accessible to all. Let’s climb.” Maybe I’m just being optimistic, but I think the future is bright for women everywhere, not just in film. So, let’s climb.
Written by Rochelle Asquith