Where are the women? Cannes Film Festival edition

At this year’s Cannes Film Festival, 22 films directed by 22 men will compete for the prestigious top award. But to feminist criticism of that dismal lineup, Cannes says, essentially, “Well, you can’t make us pick a girl just because she’s a girl.”

Of course, those numbers are pretty standard for Cannes. Last year there were a record-breaking four women in the running for the Palme D’Or, the festival’s top prize. But apparently that was but a minor blip in the long dude-dominated history of the event. Two years ago, there were no women either, and in the 64 years of the festival only one woman–Jane Campion–has ever actually won the Palme D’Or.

The French feminist group La Barbe took the festival to task in an op-ed in Le Monde last weekend and almost two thousand people, including many prominent women filmmakers, have signed a petition calling for “transparency and equality in the selection process.”

The Cannes board, for their part, stands by the selections and considers themselves to be great defenders of “universal rights”–or, at least, the universal right to choose whatever films they damn well please.

“The Festival de Cannes — in order to maintain its position and remain true to its beliefs rooted in universal rights — will continue to programme the best films from around the world ‘without distinction as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.'”

Quoting from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights would perhaps be relevant (though still annoyingly pretentious) if anyone had actually accused the festival of blatantly discriminating against women. But I doubt anyone believes there’s some grand conspiracy keeping women out. (I mean, it’s 2012–things aren’t that bad still.) Of course, defending themselves against accusations of sexism is only half of what they’re saying here. They’re also biting back at their critics by implying that people who would like to see a bit more diversity in the lineup are demanding (reverse) sexism.

No one actually called for that either. I’m sure Cannes juror and filmmaker Andrea Arnold, who said she would hate the idea of being selected solely because of her gender, is hardly alone among lady directors (or, ya know, women in general). Nobody wants to be a token. But it’s an especially obnoxious brand of white male artist bullshit to so confidently claim that 1) there is such a thing as the objectively, universally “best” films and 2) that simply by having a purportedly gender-blind (and race-, nationality-, etc.) selection process, you’ve successfully found them.

Which is really all the petition was saying anyway. It never said the selections were wrong. It simply called for greater transparency about how they are made–out of a recognition that judging film is an inherently subjective thing: “We judge films as human beings, shaped by our own perspectives and experiences. It is vital, therefore, that there be equality and diversity at the point of selection.” Cannes has shown no evidence that they grasp this fundamental basis of the criticism. They believe they’re running a true meritocracy, so if there’s no women, that’s simply because there weren’t any women good enough.

It’s true that there’s a dearth of women directors in general–and so it’s likely that to a large extent the Cannes lineup is simply a reflection of the larger problem in the industry. (Which is how it goes when it comes to other gender gaps as well.) But I’d be a lot more understanding–and have a lot more hope for the future at Cannes–if they hadn’t been so pompous and clueless about the whole thing.

Where are the women?
Where are the women? National Magazine Award edition

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like Cosmopolitan.com, TheAtlantic.com, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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