Cannes Lions: Gabourey Sidibe Talks Diversity, Directing

Gabourey Sidibe - Getty - H 2017
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“I am not a fad," the Oscar-nominee said of expanding roles for women of color in television and film.

Several panels at Cannes Lions — the ad world’s annual Cannes confab — have discussed women in the industry, so much so that Gabourey Sidibe said the all the talk risks seeming like a trend without concrete action. 

“We’ve been talking about it so much it seems like a fad, which is strange because women have been on the planet just as long as men,” she said, joking: “It turns out even if you believe in Adam and Eve, Adam was nothing until Eve came along — stupid man didn’t even know he was naked.”

However the Oscar-nominee said that while women have made progress, she is still not seeing enough stories that reflect her voice as a black woman.

“As a woman, as a black woman first — I’m black and then I’m a woman and that’s just the way I like it — that you have a voice that’s so great, but what about me? I am black, I’m dark skinned and I’m a bigger woman and the numbers will tell you I don’t exist,” she said. Despite her starring role on the hit Empire, she said she wants to be able to work on projects that depict her personal struggles with religion and faith.

“I want to be able to have an existential crisis in film and television,” she said, citing Cate Blanchett’s roles. “But she gets to do that as a thin, beautiful, white woman. I have the same worries as she does and I want to see that on TV. And here’s the thing, I will. I will do this.”

The audience erupted in cheers as she said that she’s expanding her portfolio as a director to be able to tell these kinds of stories. Her short film A Tale of Four with Refinery29, who hosted the panel, is the first of her efforts.

Sidibe said that while Precious was nominated for 11 Oscars but only won two, Moonlight’s best picture win earlier this year represents a victory bigger than the award.

“It’s such a huge shift and it doesn’t feel like it, but we’ve come really, really far,” she said. The small changes that have happened in the decade between have made the difference.

“I’m [an] anomaly. I’m not supposed to be here and be part of the Hollywood conversation because of my body, because of my skin, because of my age, but I’m still here because I am also the audience,” she said. Female viewers — and women are the most loyal TV viewers, co-panelist Kevin Reilly said — are seeking out more diverse actresses. “It’s moving in an amazing way. I think if this were 2007 instead of 2017 I probably wouldn’t be here, I wouldn’t be worth listening to.”

Echoing her remarks at the beginning of the panel she said — much to the audience’s delight: “I am not a fad!”