Cannes Has Learnt Nothing.

Gender Inequity Is Still Rampant At The French Film Festival

Official Selection 2019 © FDC, source

Festival de Cannes is one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world, generally considered one of the “Big Three” alongside the Venice Film Festival and Berlin International Film Festival. This year marks its 72nd annual competition, and the nominations are in.

As usual, women and minorities are woefully underrepresented.

You could argue that this should be considered neither particularly surprising nor hurtful beyond the usual film industry standards, if you keep in mind the established structures and the glacial pace at which the establishment moves.

The festival has been running for 72 years, but only this year, with Mati Diop’s directorial debut Atlantiques, for the first time, a black woman has been nominated in the Competition section. (These are the twenty films competing for the esteemed Palme d’Or.) Between her and Malian filmmaker Ladj Ly, there are only 2 filmmakers of African descent represented in competition at Cannes this year.

But the fact remains, the inequality is particularly painful this year.

For the longest time it felt like this time we had a decent chance at seeing some more equality across the different sections of the festival.

That’s because last year, 82 women of the film industry walked the red carpet together to highlight the fact that out of the hundreds and hundreds of films that premiered at the film festival, only 82 ever were directed by women.

The Jury of the 71st annual Cannes Film Festival, 2018

Among them was Agnès Varda. Her career really started when she received an honorary Palme D’or in 1955. By 2018, she was a giant in the industry. But many of the other women at her side were quite literally risking their entire careers for making this statement.

And it seemed to work. Drawing attention to this huge imbalance felt like a shock of cold water to the faces of the behemoths of the film industry. It looked like things were going to be different. So many pledges for change were made.

And then, Agnès Varda died.

Agnès Varda

In her honour, Cannes paid tribute to her by using an image of her as the official poster for the 2019 festival. It shows her perched on the shoulders of a male technician, shooting her first feature La Pointe Courte.

But instead of meaningfully honouring her legacy by taking her 2018 protest to heart, only 4 out of the 19 films announced In Competition are directed by women.

There are more women in other sections of the festival, but we are still very far from an equal 50:50 split. It’s particularly egregious that the main Competition of the festival is still so male dominated, because it still makes it look like the most prestigious section continues to be a boys’ club.


Obviously, Cannes is just one of many film festivals out there, albeit a well-known one. Many film fans and ardent cinephiles tend to write it off for being cliquey and elitist, and casual film-viewers rarely go on to see even a handful of the Cannes films. So why should we care?

Despite these criticisms, Cannes is still hugely influential on film distribution in the Anglosphere. Being nominated In Competition for the precious Golden Palm almost guarantees world-wide theatrical distribution and media attention. An overwhelming percentage of international films that successfully make it into the English-speaking film world premiere at Cannes. Oscar winners are regularly first shown at Cannes. It’s one of the key spaces where cinema culture is defined.

And at the end of the day, Cannes is still one of the main roads to success as a filmmaker.

If this road is disproportionately barred to women and minorities, their films will remain obscure to the majority of English-speaking audiences.

We can champion and argue for women’s rights and representation in the film industry for as long as we want — if the film festivals continue to ignore the thousands of talented women filmmakers out there in favour of their boys’ club, we won’t get anywhere anytime soon and film will remain a mostly male playing field.