The protest was striking not in how many women stood on the red carpet but in how few.
Halfway up the stairs at the Palais des Festivals at the Cannes Film Festival on Saturday stood 82 women, representing the 82 female directors who have climbed those same stairs since the first year the festival was held, 1946. As they stood there, arms linked, the group of women fit comfortably on the red carpet, surrounded by empty stairs.
“In the same period, 1,688 male directors have climbed these very same stairs,” said actress Cate Blanchett, the president of the festival’s jury. “The prestigious Palme d’Or has been bestowed upon 71 male directors, too numerous to mention by name, but only two female directors.” Three of the 18 films in this year’s festival are from female filmmakers, and that’s the highest number in seven years.
Among the 82 women standing in protest was the actress, producer and director Salma Hayek Pinault, a leading voice in the #MeToo and Times Up movements and among the dozens of women who have accused Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct. Hayek gave a wide-ranging interview with reporters on Sunday, covering changes in the movie industry, the gender pay gap and the Weinstein scandal.
Hayek urged women to shift their focus from advocacy to action. “Change has already happened” in Hollywood, Hayek said, so the time has come for women in the industry to build on that momentum through their film work. Now is the time for female film makers to show audiences and industry leaders, “look what you were missing all this time,” she said.
Just this year, the 51-year-old Mexican-born actor has sold four television shows about women to different outlets. She is developing five movies, and they are all about women, she said. “I can’t find enough female writers and directors,” Hayek said. “They’re all busy.”
She sees this as a sign that filmmakers are starting to prioritize hiring female writers and directors.
“Maybe you don’t see the difference in the numbers, but it just happened this year,” Hayek said. “It worked. And I think we should enjoy it.”
The gender pay gap, however, will take far longer to close, Hayek said. “That’s where we need to be more aggressive.”
It will require not only fearless salary negotiation, but also, perhaps, some male actors’ giving up a portion of their inflated salaries to be able to pay women salaries that are on par with theirs, she said. Some male actors make such high salaries that movie producers would not be able to afford paying women the same amount, she said.
“It’s not just the producers,” Hayek said. “The actors have to say, ‘Okay, time’s up. I’ve had a good run, but it’s time to also be generous.’ ”
One actor, Benedict Cumberbatch, on Sunday said he would boycott film projects that do not pay women the same as their male co-stars.
In December, Hayek joined the list of more than 40 women who came forward with allegations of sexual harassment against Weinstein. She detailed her story in a New York Times commentary, describing how he allegedly propositioned her over and over again.
“For years, he was my monster,” Hayek wrote. She accused him of repeatedly demanding messages and sex, and said, “I don’t think he hated anything more than the word ‘no.’ ”
While he was producing the 2002 film “Frida,” in which Hayek starred, Weinstein insisted that she add an unscripted sex scene with another woman, complete with full-frontal nudity. Hayek wrote that she felt complying was the only way she would get the movie made, and she worried about disappointing all of the “talented people” she had persuaded to join her dream project.
Weinstein and his team of publicists rarely responded to allegations from individual women in the news, providing general statements and denials to the press. But he did respond to a few women’s accounts directly. Hayek’s was one of them.
In a lengthy statement, Weinstein apologized for his “boorish behavior” following a screening of “Frida” but claimed he never fought with Hayek on set and didn’t recall some of her allegations.
One of the other early accounts that prompted an individualized apology from Weinstein was from Lupita Nyong’o, who wrote a commentary in the New York Times detailing a pattern of predatory behavior by Weinstein.
Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Hayek argued that Weinstein singled out Nyong’o and herself because they are women of color, while most of the accusers were not.
“It was a strategy by the lawyers, because we are the easiest to get discredited,” Hayek said. “It is a well-known fact, if you are a woman of color, people believe what you say less. So he went attacking the two women of color, in hopes that if he could discredit us, he could then maybe discredit the rest.”
Weinstein also responded by name to Ashley Judd, in an interview with the New York Post in early October. Later, in January and February, his legal and public relations team also later wrote lengthy statements in response to allegations from Rose McGowan and Uma Thuman.
Hayek also sees the activism of the #MeToo Movement carrying over into other causes, such as the calls for gun control in the aftermath of the Parkland, Fla., shooting.
“When you start seeing people standing up for their rights and being heard, it becomes contagious,” she said. “I personally think that the movement of the students after the attack in Florida had to do with what they saw happening with the #MeToo movement.”
“I think it’s an invitation for us to think differently and to act differently,” she said.
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