Cate Blanchett leads a protest at Cannes.

Photo: AP

Cate Blanchett linked arms with diminutive veteran French filmmaker Agnes Varda and her fellow female jury members at the Cannes Film Festival to lead 82 women in a protest march up the festivals sacred turf, the red carpet.

The march, which was sponsored by the festival itself, aimed to draw attention to gender inequality in the film industry.

As she would soon remind everyone, just 82 women directors have walked up that carpet to present a competition film in the 71 years of the festivals existence, compared with 1688 men.

The women who represented them on Saturday night came from all corners of the film industry,
including stars such as Jane Fonda, Marion Cotillard, Salma Hayek and the director of Wonder
Woman, Patty Jenkins, but also writers, producers, agents and others nobody hears about.

Standing on the theatre steps, Blanchett and Varda read out the same speech in English and


“Women are not a minority in the world, yet the current state of our industry says
otherwise,” said Blanchett.

“As women, we all face our own unique challenges, but we stand together on these stairs today as a symbol of our determination and commitment to progress … We stand in solidarity with women in all industries.”

Blanchett had previously said that a photograph of the festivals winners brought home to her
“what was literally wrong with this picture”: a single female face, that of Jane Campion, among a sea of 71 men.

Jane Campion won the festivals top award, the Palme DOr, in 1986 for The Piano. Agnes Varda was awarded an honorary Palme for lifetime achievement in 2015, at the age of 87.

A big crowd turned out to see the march, which preceded the screening of French director Eva
Hussons drama about a Kurdish womens unit fighting in Syria, Girls of the Sun.

Husson is one of just three women with films in a competition of 21 films.

Festival director Thierry Fremaux has repeatedly said that while the festival aims to have equal numbers of women and men on juries and working behind the scenes, films will only be selected on the basis of artistic merit.

Both the march and a conference to take place on Monday are organised by a French industry
organisation with a name suggesting that this argument wont be acceptable for long: 5050 x 2020.

Fremaux is due to take part in the conference, along with French Culture Minister Francoise

A festival bulletin flagged that it would include “signing of concrete, strong commitments, with diversity and parity guidelines”.

Whether those commitments meet the challenges thrown out in the speech delivered by Blanchett and Varda remains to be seen.

These included a challenge to institutions such as the Cannes Festival to provide “parity and transparency” in their organisations and safe work spaces, to government to ensure equal pay, and to women in the film industry “to continue to insist that our workplaces are diverse and equitable so that they can best reflect the world in which we actually live”.

Two more films by women screen in competition next week – Nadine Labakis Capernaum and
Alice Rohrwachers Happy as Lazzaro – but women are much more strongly represented in other
festival sections and sidebars.

There are also notably more films by men with female protagonists or credible female characters, ranging from the mahjong salon mistress in Jia Zhang-kes competition film, Ash is Purest White, to a middle-aged eco-terrorist in Icelandic director Benedikt Erlingssons Woman at War in the parallel Critics Week.

Last year, competition jury member Jessica Chastain delivered a stinging criticism of the selection of films she had just watched and judged as collectively presenting a “disturbing” view of women.

“I was surprised by the representation of female characters on film,” she said. "I think if we include more female storytellers, I hope we have more women that I see in my own day-to-day life.

"They just dont react to the men around them. They have their own point of view."

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