Cannes' 50-50 Gender Parity Pledge, One Year Later: Has the Festival Delivered?

Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

Female representation is up, but fest director Thierry Frémaux has yet to reveal data about its selection process: "There are different excuses each year."

Last year at Cannes, Thierry Frémaux walked into a tent full of fired-up females and made a series of bold promises. It was two days after 82 women, led by Cate Blanchett and Agnès Varda, had marched up the Palais steps to protest gender inequality in the film industry, and now the demonstration's organizers — the French group 5050x2020 — had gathered in a rainstorm on the beach to ask Frémaux to make major changes to the festival.

One year later, there are signs the 72-year-old event is evolving in some key ways in accordance with Frémaux's pledge — for the first time in its history, the Cannes selection committee was 50 percent female this year. Four of the 2019 competition films were directed by women, tying a record the festival set in 2011. And, for the first time, after complaints from female attendees who have had to nurse their babies in a park adjacent to the Palais and a push by a group called Parenting at Film Festivals, there will be a breastfeeding area inside the Palais.

For a festival often associated with yacht parties staffed with prostitutes and its 2015 red carpet policy demanding high-heeled shoes, these measures constitute significant change. But there also are indications that one of the central promises Frémaux made in the tent — to track and share data on the demographics of filmmakers and key crewmembers on projects submitted to Cannes — has been harder to keep.

"Cannes has respected all the commitments relating to the pledge so far," says French sales agent Delphyne Besse, a member of 5050X2020. "We are waiting for them to share the data of the submitted films during the time of the festival and we will analyze the figures with them."

The reason 5050X2020 and its sister organizations (Time's Up's U.S. and U.K. branches, Italy's Dissenso Comune, Spain's CIMA and the Greek Women's Wave) have pushed for the data is to address what has been one of Frémaux's key rebuttals when pressed on the fest's lack of female representation — that he faces a pipeline issue when it comes to women filmmakers.

It's a defense Frémaux echoed in an April interview when he presented his 2019 slate. "Cannes and any festival, we are the last stage of that journey," says Frémaux. "The journey of having more female directors starts in cinema school and university."

That response grates on some industry women, who point to prominent film schools like USC and NYU, where women make up roughly half of the student body. "There are different excuses each year," says Melissa Silverstein, founder of Women and Hollywood and one of the 82 participants in the Palais protest last year. "Instead of being defensive, we'd like Thierry to embrace the issue and be a leader."

5050X2020 plans to stage another event at Cannes this year to take stock of the festival's progress and set new goals, Besse says. Says Frémaux: "They will do a morning of work with conferences in Cannes and establish what they are thinking about this year and where we are headed in the future. We will see what will happen."

Rhonda Richford contributed to this report.

This story first appeared in the May 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.