Cannes Wrap Up: Salma Hayek Says Hollywood Needs To Understand The Economic Power Of Women

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This year’s Cannes Film Festival has come at a time when the film industry (most notably Hollywood) has been under the spotlight quite a bit lately because of a tipping point we seem to have arrived at.

The past few years there has been an even more intense scrutiny of the gender bias that exists within film industry circles, most notably the egregious absence of female directors being hired by major motion picture studios, and the stereotypes roles women are now speaking out against.

It’s not just activist groups and powerful media writers and bloggers speaking about it, it is A-list celebrities (both men and women, mind you) who are sick of the same cycles of bias that continue year after year within Hollywood.

Many female actresses like Meryl Streep and Reese Witherspoon are creating their own production companies and film initiatives to ensure the abysmal numbers between the representation of men and women (no prizes for guessing who is in front in that race) are heading toward a more equal playing field.

The 2015 Cannes Film Festival was centered around the theme of women, dubbed ‘Year de la Femme‘ which seems fitting because for many years it has been criticized for not giving enough attention to female directors. For example, director Jane Campion is the ONLY female to ever win the Palme D’Or in 1993 for her film ‘The Piano’. In 2014 Jane headed up a jury panel of 5 women and 4 men, the first female majority panel since 2009.

In 2012 there were no female directors in the competition at all, which is sad but also not that shocking.

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On a panel hosted by Variety and UN Women, a group of actresses and female producers spoke about the industry’s gender problem in support of the He For She campaign.

Present were Salma Hayek, Emma Watson’s He For She speech writer and creator of the initiative Elizabeth Nyamayaro, Bollywood actress Aishwarya Rai, actress Parker Posey, producers Elizabeth Karlsen and Christine Vachon, and Variety Co-Editor-In-Chief Claudia Eller.

Salma Hayek made some rather bold and damning statements which are getting plenty of media attention worldwide. She wants less women to feel like victims, and more studio bosses to recognize their mistake in not investing in more females.

“We can’t stand as victims and say we need to make them aware of women. Because guess what? They don’t care. There’s only one thing that inspires the people and the power in the industry, and that’s money. They have to understand how powerful we are economically. We have the power to show them we can save this film industry,” she said.

While the movie business is certainly not dying, it has been fragmented quite severely due to the onslaught of digital platforms, user-generated content, and crowd-funding platforms becoming an increasingly popular method to get indie films funded and have an audience already.

Salma went on to emphasize that women need to stop being held up as merely sexual objects in films, as that is a key component to what is holding back on-screen female representations from breaking out of stereotypical portrayals.

“It’s simple, plain ignorance.  They think the only value we bring to a movie is as an object. The only kind of film where women make more money than men is porno. It’s not funny. Our pay can never go up because we never get the opportunity to show what we can bring in revenue,” she said.

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That is a damn sobering thought and definitely not empowering at all.

She cited her own experiences throughout her career where she has initially signed on to a film because of the great script, but then arrives on set finding out her lines have been “dumbed down” so that she won’t “outshine” the male lead. Or other cases she has seen where an A-list actress is the obvious draw card for a film with an ensemble cast, but the male lead gets the credit when it is a success, and the female often gets the blame for it not being a financial success at the box office when it flops.

Salma’s production company, Ventanarosa Productions has been making award-winning films and TV shows (‘Frida’, ‘Ugly Betty’)for many years now and she knows the power of valuing herself and her talents as a woman, rather than conforming to the way the Hollywood studio system values women compared to men.

“Cinema undermines women’s intelligence. It’s been doing it for some time now. They don’t see us as a powerful economic force, which is really incredible ignorance.”

So perhaps the Cannes Film Festival, being the most prestigious of international film festivals, is in a position to make an industry-wide effect with conscious decisions it seems to ever so slowly be making. For example, the opening night of the festival is a highly coveted spot for filmmakers, and this year they gave it to a female director for the first time in a LONG time: Emmanuelle Bercot’s ‘La Tête Haute’ (Standing Tall).

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She made headlines around the world not just for her momentous drought-breaking skills, but also her incredulous and excited facial expressions on the red carpet. She too, clearly, cannot believe it has taken this long for a woman to be honored on the opening night! The last time that happened was in 1987 when Diane Kurys premiered her film ‘A Man In Love’, reports the New York Times.

But if you think Emmanuelle considers her opener as a win for women, it is not.

“It’s the selection of the film that’s an honor. I don’t feel I’ve been a given a gift because such a prestigious slot went to a woman,” she said to the press.

Outspoken actress on gender equality in film Cate Blanchett also made her thoughts clear on the ‘Year de la Femme’ theme, saying it should never be about tokenism or just a fad.

“They say it’s the ‘year of the women’. You hope it’s not just a year — not just some fashionable moment.”

Mahohla Dargis at the NYT writes that the only sure bet for this year’s festival is that it will be both condemned and praised at the same time.

“I hope that its commitment to female directors continues. It has been regularly singled out for not showcasing them, as in 2012 when French activists criticized the festival for not putting any women in the main competition. “Men love their women to have depth,” the activists wrote in an open letter, “but only when it comes to their cleavage.” Yet it isn’t always clear if the blame rests with programmers who haven’t looked hard enough or with the industry that doesn’t give women equal breaks,” she writes.

“Only 16.3 percent of recent European movies, according to one study, were directed by women (just over 20 percent in France), which are the kinds of numbers Americans might recognize…It seems worth pointing out that a female director cannot win the most prestigious, sometimes career-boosting accolades if she is not allowed to actually to compete with her male peers, which is as true at Cannes as at the Academy Awards.”

In honor of the seemingly positive steps Cannes are taking toward being more inclusive toward female filmmakers, Women and Hollywood have launched a new initiative called ‘Support Women Filmmakers‘ “to take advantage of the media focus on Cannes and to make people aware of the terrific work women filmmakers (including directors, producers, editors, actors, composers and others) are contributing to our worldwide cinematic conversation”.

Their overall goals are to create more opportunities for female directors, create visibility for female directors at the highest level of business within the industry, gender equality for women on screen, and the validation of a decidedly female storytelling perspective.

They created two great infographics to make it easier to see why the increased representation of women in the industry is not just important, but well overdue.

With the recent ground-breaking news of the American Civil Liberties Union filing an investigation into Hollywood’s alleged discriminatory hiring practices toward female directors, it seems there is no going back. In a statement to Time magazine, Best Director Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow (actually all we needed to say to describe her was “the only female director that has won that Academy Award”) she shared why overlooking women is only going to hurt the film industry as a whole.

“I have always firmly believed that every director should be judged solely by their work, and not by their work based on their gender. Hollywood is supposedly a community of forward thinking and progressive people yet this horrific situation for women directors persists. Gender discrimination stigmatizes our entire industry. Change is essential. Gender neutral hiring is essential,” she said.

The criticism is going to get louder and louder, just like the ridiculous fanfare by some male action film enthusiasts who feel they were duped into thinking ‘Mad Max’ was going to be any good after the admission that director George Miller hired feminist activist Eve Ensler to consult on the storyline, and Charlize Theron’s character leading the charge across the desert.

But so should the armies of women who are demanding an equal share of stories, audiences and chances to create films from a female perspective without the added barrier of being told women’s films “don’t sell”.

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2 Comments

  1. Pingback: Swedish Film Institute Just Surpassed Hollywood With Their Equal Stance On Film Funding

  2. Pingback: The EEOC Joins The Investigation Into Hollywood's Discrimination Toward Female Directors

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