EXCLUSIVE: In an unprecedented move in its 71-year history, the Cannes Film Festival is understood to be signing “concrete, strong commitments” around diversity on Monday.
In a statement sent to Deadline, the festival said: “The Festival de Cannes is partnering with a united positive action, initiated by the 50/50 By 2020 collective and Time’s Up. A symbolic image will be created on Saturday, May 12, before the signing of concrete, strong commitments on Monday, with diversity and parity guidelines.”
The festival also confirmed new details about Saturday’s [May 12] “women’s march,” which was briefly discussed earlier this week by artistic director Thierry Fremaux. As the fest’s statement indicates, the event was seemingly organized by the French 50/50 By 2020 gender parity initiative and the Time’s Up organization in conjunction with the festival.
Proceedings are due to kick off around 5 PM local time, I have been told, when 82 women from the industry “will be on the red carpet” before the screening of Eva Husson’s Competition entry Girls of the Sun. The number 82 was chosen to represent the 82 films directed by women and selected in Competition since the first edition of the festival. I gather female festival attendees have dropped prior commitments to make sure they can be among the 82.
Those climbing the steps of the Palais will stop halfway up as part of a “symbolic gesture,” followed by a reading of texts by iconic French director Agnès Varda (in French) and Competition Jury president Cate Blanchett (in English). The texts have been devised to “respond to each other.”
It has been years since the festival or its jury head has been involved in such a public and coordinated socio-political message. Blanchett and a number of her jury members have been vocal about the issue of industry inequality. I understand earlier this week female Competition jury members including Blanchett, Ava DuVernay and Lea Seydoux made a point of going to see Un Certain Regard title Rafiki by Kenyan female director Wanuri Kahiu when they could have been at a Competition screening by a male director. They are understood to have seen the Competition title the next day, but it was a telling gesture of solidarity.
The signing of diversity guidelines would be an unprecedented move by Cannes, which has come under heavy fire for the lack of women among its lineup. This year there are only three women directors out of 21 in the main competition; that number is fairly normal for the festival. Meanwhile, Spike Lee is the first black filmmaker with a movie in Competition in the past four years. In the last decade, you can count the number of black directors with movies in Competition on one hand.
Significant action from Cannes — and other major festivals — is welcome on this issue. This year the festival introduced a harassment hotline and changed internal “practices” to try to improve the chances of greater diversity. The world’s cameras will be trained on the steps of the Palais tomorrow afternoon, and the industry awaits to hear more about the guidelines it says it will commit to Monday.