At the Cannes Film Festival, taking a stand for global gender parity

From the steps of the Palais to inside the HP Cannes Studio, film and tech leaders address inequality and a path forward in their industries.

By Angela Matusik — May 16, 2018

There’s no denying the glamour of the Cannes Film Festival, where female beauty is celebrated as much as the films that compete for the coveted Palme d’Or prize. Fans and photographers flock to Southern France for a glimpse at stunning women who attend nightly screenings in head-turning couture gowns usually only seen on the pages of magazines.

But this year, there was little discussion around what (or “who”) the women were wearing. Rather, the focus was on how to ensure their voices have equal representation in the film and technology industries. And a new rallying cry — one inspired by the #TIMESUP movement — was heard loud and clear. 

“Women are not a minority in the world, yet the current state of our industry says otherwise.”

Cate Blanchett, actor and jury president at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival

The 82

“Women are not a minority in the world, yet the current state of our industry says otherwise,” said jury president Cate Blanchett during a groundbreaking women’s march up the Palais steps on Saturday. Eighty-two female film professionals — actors, directors, directors of photography, producers and more — joined hands to make a statement. They called attention to the shamefully low number of women directors who have been included in the festival's main competition — only 82 in all of its 71 years (as opposed to 1,688 male directors).

The march was the first action of a new movement, 5050by2020, created by French filmmakers Rebecca Zlotowsk and Céline Sciamma, that calls for equal representation in film by the year 2020. As its messaging rippled through the festival’s international attendees, became clear their demands are not exclusive to France and the United States.

Courtesy of CANAL + / ORANGE / AFFIF

Director Nandita Das, whose film Manto (produced with HP technology) premiered in the festival’s Un Certain Regard selection, was among the 82. Joined by Salma Hayek, Sofia Boutella, Patty Jenkins and Agnes Varda, the India-based star says this was a red carpet walk like no other.

“Usually there are very few women there to begin with and those who are there are mostly in front of the camera,” explains Das, who has attended the festival previously as an actor and juror. “And everyone is clicking away at these beautiful people in their beautiful dresses and it’s all about that. But there is so much more to women, and so much more to women in cinema and what they do behind the scenes.”

Courtesy of HP

(Left to right): Angela Matusik, Head of Brand Journalism at HP, Hazel Hayes, filmmaker and blogger, Nandita Das, director, actor and former jury member, Nick Lazaridis, president of EMEA region for HP and Joanna Popper, global head of virtual reality for location based entertainment at HP.

Not just the film industry, but tech, too

Two days earlier, the festival’s largest sponsor, HP, invited Das along with several other leaders of the tech and film industries for a discussion around gender equality. Surrounded by striking HP-printed images of past female jury presidents (only 12 in the festival’s history), the director joined a panel with Hazel Hayes, an emerging filmmaker from the UK, Joanna Popper, global head of virtual reality for location based entertainment at HP, and Nick Lazaridis, president of Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) region for HP.

“It’s just getting that foot in the door to prove you are as good if not better than a guy,” said Hayes. Though she has hundreds of thousands of followers on her YouTube channel, Hayes said she still faces discrimination. “But there are more opportunities as things start to change.”

HP’s Lazaridis, who is passionate about leading diverse teams across the EMEA region, said the crucial thing is for leaders to move beyond discussions and into measurable action. “We can all talk about gender diversity, but until you put programs in place and hold people accountable, as we are doing at HP, you’re not going to get real change,” he said.

For the companies who lead way, the results can be a win-win. HP’s Popper, who’s worked in both the tech and the entertainment industries throughout her career and is part of the 50 Women Can organization, talked up the business benefits of pursuing gender parity.

 “When you have diversity in an organization you see better financial returns, better stock prices and better products,” she explained. “It isn’t just the right thing to do. It has a huge impact on the business.”

Watch HP's entire discussion on gender equality in the film and tech industries on YouTube.

HP Panel: Female Empowerment in the Film & Tech Industry | Cannes Film Festival 2018

A pledge for change

The spotlight on for equality grew on Monday as three of the Festival’s leaders pledged to improve gender parity at future international film festivals. In an early morning ceremony, Cannes director Thierry Frémaux was among those who signed the Programming Pledge for Parity and Inclusion in Cinema Festivals as members of the first-ever predominantly female jury (including Blanchett, Kristen Stewart, Léa Seydoux, and Ava DuVernay) looked on.

“It’s about uniting, not dividing,” said Blanchett afterwards, adding that “without Thierry Frémaux saying yes to the pledge, without saying yes to [the 82 march], we wouldn’t be here.”

After the premiere of Manto, a biopic about Indo-Pakistani author Saadat Hasan Manto that was enthusiastically received by audiences, director Das spoke again about forward momentum toward the 50/50 by 2020 goal. “Every little step we take is in the right direction, she says.”


Learn about HP’s #MoreLikeMe mentoring program, which is set to debut at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity next month.