CANNES, FRANCE — The Cannes Film Festival came under fire last year for having only two female directors in competition, a situation they repeated this year, although they chose a female-directed drama, “La Tete Haute” (“Standing Tall”), as the opening-night film.
Issues of female representation in front of and behind the camera have dominated discussions, up and down the Croisette, as filmmakers, actresses and journalists grapple with the stubborn fact that, although women are an enormous market (Hello, “Mad Max:Fury Road”! Have you met “Pitch Perfect 2”?), they make up only a handful of go-to directors and are consistently underpaid relative to their male co-stars.
Salma Hayek has been one of the most outspoken participants this week, bringing welcome fire and intelligence to a debate that should long ago have ceased being a debate. “Cinema has been undermining women’s intelligence for a long time,” Hayek said on Saturday at a panel sponsored by the trade publication Variety and UN/Women, which have launched the #HeForShe campaign, encouraging men to advocate for gender equality in film. The panel was scheduled on the heels of the ACLU announcing it would investigate the movie industry for gender discrimination practices.
“For a long time, they thought the only thing we were interested in were romantic comedies. They don’t see us as a powerful economic force, which is an incredible ignorance.” (Hayek also participated in the Women in Motion Conversations sponsored by Kering and The Hollywood Reporter; Kering honorees this year included producer Megan Ellison and Jane Fonda.)
Sitting alongside actresses Parker Posey and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, as well as producers Christine Vachon and Elizabeth Karlsen, Hayek’s smart, passionate analysis dominated the 45-minute panel, which was moderated by Variety co-editor-in-chief Claudia Eller and Elizabeth Nyamayar, UN/Women senior advisor. (Tellingly, Eller mentioned that they had asked men to participate, to no avail.)
Noting that she was consistently turned down by the networks when she was pitching the series “Ugly Betty,” Hayek said she finally pre-sold it to advertisers, proving there was a viable Latino market. Women – especially Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers – have to do the same, she said, much like millennials have proven their market power with book-to-movie projects such as “The Hunger Games” and “Twilight.”
“Can anybody tell me, what is the mainstream movie that women want to go see? … We are 80 percent of [economic] decision power,” she said, adding that that power needs to be harnessed and quantified. We [need to prove] that we can save a movie industry that is collapsing.”
Although Posey didn’t have quite as much to say as Hayek, her contributions were stunning in their own way. “I thought I’d have a career playing the best friend” in romantic comedies, she said, bemoaning the death of that genre. “What happened to that?”
A few moments later, she confided to the small audience, “This is kind of gross gross, but I’ve heard that high-powered producers take these meetings, and they take Viagra before they go into the meetings. This is affecting our stories.” Hayek took Posey’s lead, adding that women’s value in the movies is still primarily as a sex object. “The only kind of film where women make more money than men is in the porno industry.”
When people complain about movies that are little more than testosterone-driven wish-fulfillment fantasies, in other words, they might be closer to the truth than they think.