Cannes: Cate Blanchett-Led Women's March Takes Center Stage on Red Carpet

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Cannes women's march

Eighty-two stars and executives took to the steps of the Palais to symbolize the number of women who have been featured in the festival's competition over its 71-year history.

Cannes Film Festival jury president Cate Blanchett led a women's march up the steps of the Palais in Cannes on Saturday night in what turned out to be a powerful moment to promote gender equality in the film industry.

A hush spread over the normally chaotic red carpet as the women took to the iconic steps, standing in solidarity and silence to call attention to the low number of females who have been selected in the festival's official competition over the years.

In total, 82 women participated in the event, including Blanchett, fellow jury members Kristen Stewart and Ava DuVernay, Lea Seydoux, Marion Cotillard, Salma Hayek, Leila Bekhti, Sofia Bouterra, Patty Jenkins and Agnes Varda, the latter of whom joined Blanchett to deliver remarks at the top of the stairs. Blanchett and Varda read out a statement, calling out the very few women that have ever been in competition.

"On these steps today stand 82 women representing the number of female directors who have climbed these stairs since the first edition of the Cannes Film Festival in 1946. In the same period, 1688 male directors have climbed these very same stairs. In the 71 years of this world-renowned festival, there have been 12 female heads of its juries. The prestigious Palme d’Or has been bestowed upon 71 male directors — too numerous to mention by name — but only two women: Jane Campion, who is with us in spirit, and Agnès Varda, who stands with us today," said Blanchett.

"These facts are stark and undeniable. Women are not a minority in the world, yet the current state of our industry says otherwise. 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 are writers, producers, directors, actresses, cinematographers, talent agents, editors, distributors, sales agents and all involved in the cinematic arts. We stand in solidarity with women of all industries," continued Blanchett and Varda, before reading out a list of demands.

"We will expect our institutions to actively provide parity and transparency in their executive bodies and safe environments in which to work. We will expect our governments to make sure that the laws of equal pay for equal work are upheld. We will demand that our workplaces are diverse and equitable so that they can best reflect the world in which we actually live. A world that allows all of us behind and in front of the camera to thrive shoulder to shoulder with our male colleagues. We acknowledge all of the women and men who are standing for change. The stairs of our industry must be accessible to all. Let’s climb," they concluded.

The number of women was significant: In the 71-year history of the Cannes Film Festival, 82 films directed by women have been featured in the main competition, compared with 1,645 films by male helmers. Also significant: The showing preceded the gala premiere for the only female-directed film in competition this year, Eva Husson’s Girls of the Sun, a drama about Kurdish female fighters.

Inside the Palais, the energy was electric, with the DJs blasting "I'm Every Woman" as the crowd waited in line. As Husson and her actresses made their way down the carpet, Beyoncé's "Run the World (Girls)" was played, which incited a bit of a dance party that saw Emmanuelle Bercot and Golshifteh Farahani up the energy for the photographers. 

As they made their way inside the Palais, the capacity crowd of 2,300 greeted them with a standing ovation, and while this is routine before a screening, it featured extended applause from the guests, among them Blanchett and filmmakers including Pedro Almodovar. 

The French movement known as 5050×2020 orchestrated the event, using the symbolism of the iconic red stairs to show "how hard it is still to climb the social and professional ladder."

On its website, the organization calls out disgraced mogul Harvey Weinstein and offers statements that echo the Time's Up and #MeToo movements. "While French cinema wasn’t shaken by the Weinstein shock wave, it is essential that we move to take concrete action reaching beyond the issue of sexual abuse alone," reads the site. "We believe that the distribution of power needs to be questioned. We believe that equality restores the balance of power. We believe that diversity deeply changes representations. We believe that the opportunity to work in an egalitarian and inclusive environment must be seized because we are certain that the equal sharing of power will promote profound creative renewal."

The 5050x2020 movement then offers solutions of creating equal directorial boards by the year 2020 and the creation of "an observatory" to monitor equality in the French film business.

Friday's march took place ahead of a highly anticipated conference to be held Monday by 5050x2020 in conjunction with other women's groups including Time's Up U.S., Time's Up U.K., Dissenso Comune (Italy), CIMA (Spain) and Greek Women's Wave. Cannes festival head Theirry Fremaux will also make an appearance and is expected to make an announcement about changes to the fest's programming following #MeToo.

A version of this story appears in The Hollywood Reporter's May 13 daily issue from the Cannes Film Festival.

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