Sexism and #MeToo in focus on opening day of Cannes film festival

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Sexism and #MeToo in focus on opening day of Cannes film festival
(From left) Feature Film Jury member Ava DuVernay, Jury President Cate Blanchett and Feature Film Jury member Khadja Nin pose on the balcony of the Grand Hyatt Cannes. Photo: AFP

The most political Cannes film festival in years opens late on Tuesday with female stars vowing to protest on the red carpet against industry sexism, two top directors barred from attending and bans hanging over some movies.


With Hollywood still reeling from the Harvey Weinstein scandal, and Cannes under fire for its dearth of women directors, Cate Blanchett and Kristen Stewart are likely to join other actresses and women directors Saturday in a  protest in support of the #MeToo and Time's Up movements. 

Blanchett, who also heads the jury, did not hide her unhappiness on Tuesday  that only three of the 21 directors in the running for the top Palme d'Or prize are women.

"There are many women on the jury but I wish there were more in competition," she told French radio Tuesday.

"It is extremely important that we have change" after Weinstein, she added. 

"We have to include women and look for diversity."

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Cannes' "dismal" record on female directors, and Saturday's red carpet protest, may generate the most heat in a festival packed with political hot potatoes -- even if the launch of the new "Star Wars" spin-off, "Solo", should lighten the mix.

Yet with no fewer than a dozen films with LGBT themes, and others tackling child abuse, male prostitution and an eye-watering DIY sex change, it has all the makings of a vintage year for scandal and controversy.

A new documentary about the singer Whitney Houston by Oscar winner Kevin Macdonald reportedly includes a devastating revelation about the demons that dogged her short tragic life.  

"Black Panther" director Ryan Coogler -- whose film is breaking box office records -- is likely to tackle the lack of black faces in Hollywood in a Cannes masterclass.

Lesbian film banned

With Monty Python's Terry Gilliam fighting in the French courts to have his  disaster-plagued "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote" shown, the first Kenyan movie to be selected for the world's top festival, "Rafiki", has already been banned in its homeland for daring to depict a lesbian romance.

Despite a plea by US director Oliver Stone and other supporters, Tehran has refused to lift a travel ban on the dissident Iranian master Jafar Panahi, whose "Three Faces" is in the running for the Palme d'Or.

Appeals to bail Russia's Kirill Serebrennikov, under house arrest in Moscow on embezzlement charges his allies claim are political, have also fallen on deaf ears.

Festival director Thierry Fremaux told reporters Monday that it was ironic that both Iran and Russia should be "punishing the directors when neither film is political".

Serious doubts also hang over whether Gilliam's Pythonesque movie will be allowed to close the festival after it became embroiled in a bitter legal battle over who owns the rights. 

Judges in Paris will decide on Wednesday whether the film, which Gilliam has laboured on for nearly two decades, can be shown. 

'Problem with women'

Long before Weinstein was accused of attacking four women at the festival, Cannes had been under fire for a "problem with women".

Women have been stopped on the red carpet in previous years for not wearing high heels, and its dress code has been condemned as sexist.

But the Weinstein scandal has given its critics further ammunition, with screenwriter Kate Muir of Women and Hollywood lacerating the festival as "a two-week celebration of male brains and female beauty".

While admitting that Cannes "will never be the same again" after the Weinstein scandal, Fremaux said he was against quotas.

Instead he put Blanchett -- one of the first to call out Weinstein -- at the head a majority-female jury alongside another of his accusers, French "Bond" actress Lea Seydoux.

But Fremaux's surprise decision to lift the festival's seven-year ban on Danish director Lars von Trier has stoked feminist ire.

The ageing provocateur has been accused of sexual harassment by the singer Bjork, and his production company has been hit by multiple similar claims. He denies the allegations. 

Von Trier sparked outrage during a 2011 Cannes press conference by saying that he was a Nazi who understood Hitler and sympathised "with him a little bit".

But Michel Hazanavicius, the Oscar-winning director of "The Artist", who is on the festival's board, insisted von Trier was joking, while Fremaux said he was not an anti-Semite.

Pointedly though, he has not risked giving von Trier a press conference this time for his new serial killer flick, "The House That Jack Built" with Uma Thurman and Matt Dillon.

"It's very difficult for people to accept the idea that you can be a jerk and a great artist," Hazanavicius said of the Dane.

By Fiachra Gibbons


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