Eighty-two women including French filmmaker Agnès Varda and the actresses Salma Hayek and Marion Cotillard — appeared on the red carpet for the premiere of “Girls of the Sun” , directed by Eva Husson. In a display of temperment fiercely embraced by the Kurdish women freedom fighters honored in Husson's film, the women joined Cate Blanchett in a red carpet protest of inequitable representation of women at the Cannes Film Festival.
The number 82 was chosen precisely because in the 71 festival competitions since 1946, only 82 movies by female directors have contended for awards, compared with a total of 1,645 films by male directors. Only one movie by a female director, 'The Piano' by Jane Campion, has ever won the festival's top price, the Palme d'Or. Ms. Husson is one of three female directors among the 21 Palme d'Or contenders this year for 'Girls of the Sun'.
According to The New York Times, the 82 women walked up the carpeted staircase, then turned to face the crowd.
Cate Blanchett, this year’s competition jury president, and Ms. Varda took to the microphone to voice the protesters’ concerns. Ms. Varda said, “Women are not a minority in the world, and yet our industry says the opposite. We want this to change.”
In an interview as she left the red carpet, Ms. Hayek described the event as a historic moment and “an important part of the conversation.” She added that as a producer, she was already seeing change in the appetite for projects by and about women.
Asked to comment on the shortage of films by women at the festival, Ms. Hayek said, “You cannot say it’s only the fault of Cannes.” Describing it as “a complicated equation,” she added, “Not that many women are making their films because they’re not being financed or green-lit or distributed.” It was the responsibility of the “entire industry” and not just one festival, she said.
Director Husson said that the decision to allow the women's march to coincide with the premiere of her movie was a strategic move to highlight a film with a mostly female cast and crew in the lineup. She described the selection of her film in the Cannes competition as a 'political' one, given its focus on a group of female fighters in Iraqi Kurdistan taking on ISIS.
While organizers of the Cannes Film Festival insist that the poor showing among women is not a reflection of bias, but lack of merit, Husson knows that the separation of art, politics and excellence is a patriarchal, feel-good, male head-trip daydream.