Cannes Festival 2023: Reports of Abuse and Gender Disparity in the Film Industry

The actress Adèle Haenel announced her retirement from cinema in protest of the support of the Cannes Film Festival and the industry in general for sexual predators. We make an analysis of this topic regarding the accusations of the actress.

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LatinAmerican Post | Juan Andrés Rodríguez

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Leer en español: Festival de Cannes 2023: Denuncias de abuso y disparidad de género en la industria del cine

The 76th edition of the world's most important film festival is embroiled in controversy over comments by actress Adèle Haenel. She announced her retirement in protest of supporting sexual predators and pointed out, among other things, that the Cannes Film Festival is a safe place for those who have committed abuses. The fact promotes an analysis of the state of the film industry in response to the "#MeToo" movement and gender gaps.

"It bothers them that the victims make a lot of noise, they prefer that we disappear and die in silence," writes Adèle Haenel in a letter published by Telerama, announcing her retirement from the film industry due to "the general complacency with sexual predators." Haenel is a prominent figure in 21st century French cinematography, a two-time César Award winner and internationally recognized for Céline Sciamma's “Portrait of a Woman on Fire”. She has been one of the representatives of the #MeToo movement in France. In 2019, she made public her case of sexual abuse with director Christophe Ruggia, which occurred during the filming and promotion of her acting debut when she was a minor and led her to pause her career for five years.

In the same letter, she questioned industry leaders for accepting the participation of people who have public complaints and convictions for abuse in large events such as the Cannes Film Festival. An example is that of Roman Polanski, who has taken refuge in Europe since 1978 after being convicted of the rape of a 13-year-old girl in the United States. From France, he has continued his work, with regular premieres at Cannes and multiple Cesar awards, including the best director in 2020, a ceremony that Haenel abandoned in protest.

The president of the Cannes Film Festival, Thierry Frémaux, accused the actress's comments of "false" and pointed out that her complaints were hypocritical, since Haenel participated in two recent editions with films in the official selection. Frémaux also addressed the controversy over choosing "Jeanne du Barry", a film starring Johnny Depp, to open the festival. The premiere marks a return route for the actor to the upper echelons of the industry after the verdict in his favor in the defamation lawsuit against his ex-wife Amber Heard, who described abusive dynamics during their relationship in an opinion column published in 2018 in The Washington Post. Frémaux says that he is unaware of Depp's image in the United States, that he considers him extraordinary in the film, and that his interest is his work as an actor.

These statements set the scene for an industry that five years ago was rocked by a wave of complaints that exposed a system of abuse and routine cover-up, gender gaps in creative and executive roles, and led to promises of sweeping change. Despite the advances, they still seem a long way off.

Who Should Speak? The Dilemma of the Place of Enunciation

On the first day of the Cannes Film Festival alone, another moment of controversy occurred. The actress Brie Larson is part of the jury for this edition and is a member of the “Times Up” organization that emerged to support the 2017 complaints. She has advocated for changes in representation within the industry, and for this reason she is the object of criticism and ridicule. Some have even called for her retirement from the Captain Marvel character. During the press conference, a reporter from Variety asked him about his opinion with the choice of the opening film. Larson questioned the fact that the question had been asked exclusively to her and ended with that to give her opinion she would have to see the film.

This interaction highlights one of the main obstacles to addressing the structural problem of abuse and discrimination in the film industry: limiting the pronouncement to women. The objective of these movements is to finally listen to the experiences of women with the purpose of establishing a dialogue that can specify alternatives, but the media discourse has taken it to the point where it seems that only women can speak out and that is why themselves can be questioned for their positions.

The Brazilian philosopher Djamila Ribeiro proposes to understand this phenomenon with the concept of the place of enunciation. Her proposal is that social debates cannot be limited to a dichotomy in which it is up to women to speak only of gender-related issues, since it is a reality built jointly by society. The change is in recognizing the place from which one speaks in order to give way to disadvantaged people in these contexts and complement the story from diverse experiences.

For this reason, it is appropriate to question the figures of power, usually men, and lead the debate to the fact that it is a common problem and that it is not only the women who complain that it is appropriate to provide a solution. It is a perspective that also prevents people like Frémaux from ignoring the issue from the art discourse, from recognizing their position of power and how this can enable or truncate the social debates inherent and relevant to the festival.

Also read: This is how Latin America will be Represented at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival

Representation and Parity, a Trend?

A notable aspect of this edition is that for the first time, a third of the films in competition are directed by women, which contrasts with the figure of 14 among the 51 films initially announced for the Cannes Film Festival. These are gradual advances that respond to the call for equal opportunities, but they will take a long time to consolidate in a system that for more than a century ignored these gaps.

Common criticisms correspond to the fact that these are quotas that leave out the artistic criteria, but that only shows that there are still not enough opportunities so that the gender of the director does not have to be seen as a factor. This invites us to question the description of the victories of women in class A festivals as a "trend" and the point is that it should stop presenting it mainly as an achievement of equality to give priority to the merit and excellence of their work.

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