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‘Let’s climb’: 82 women hold landmark protest at Cannes film fest venue steps to press for equality

Cate Blanchett and Agnes Varda led the demonstration on Saturday to protest the disproportionate representation of women at the prestigious event.

After a politically charged awards season, the fight for gender equality in Hollywood was carried forward to the Cannes Film Festival. On Saturday, 82 women – including actresses, filmmakers and producers – climbed the steps of the Palais des Festivals, the convention centre where the Cannes event is held, to highlight the lack of women’s representation at the festival and the film industry. The 82 women represented the number of female directors whose films have competed at the festival since it began in 1946, in comparison to 1,866 men.

The protest was organised by the Hollywood-led Time’s Up movement and the French 5020x2020 initiative, the New York Times reported. The women marched in silence on the red carpet and then congregated at the steps to demonstrate the difficulties women face in in climbing the social and professional ladder.

“The prestigious Palme d’Or has been bestowed upon 71 male directors, too numerous to mention by name, but only two female directors,” Cate Blanchett, Oscar-winning actress and Cannes jury president, said. The two women who have won the festival’s top prize are Jane Campion (for The Piano, 1993) and French filmmaker Agnes Varda, who won an honorary Palme d’Or in 2015. Varda lead the protest with Blanchett.

The protest was held before the premiere of Eva Husson’s Girls of the Sun, which is one of three films directed by women that are competing at the festival this year, out of 21 films in all.

The participants included all the female jury members of this year’s festival – Kristin Stewart, Khadja Nin, Ava DuVernay and Lea Seydoux – and celebrities including Salma Hayek, Marion Cotillard, Jane Fonda and Patty Jenkins.

“Women are not a minority in the world, yet the current state of our industry says otherwise,” said the statement read out by Blanchett and Varda. “As women, we all face our own unique challenges, but we stand together on these stairs today as a symbol of our determination and commitment to progress. The stairs of our industry must be accessible to all. Let’s climb.”

The statement also included a list of demands to increase women’s equality in the industry.

“We will expect our institutions to actively provide parity and transparency in their executive bodies and safe environments in which to work,” it said. “We will expect our governments to make sure that the laws of equal pay for equal work are upheld. We will demand that our workplaces are diverse and equitable so that they can best reflect the world in which we actually live. A world that allows all of us behind and in front of the camera to thrive shoulder to shoulder with our male colleagues.”

The Cannes protest comes in the wake of the growing clamour in the Hollywood industry to include diversity and end institutionalised sexual harassment. The movements began after a string of sexual assault allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein in October last year, which was followed by numerous revelations against other industry members including Kevin Spacey, James Toback, Louis CK and others.

Saturday’s Cannes initiative received a flurry of support on Twitter and several film industry members also voiced their support for the protesters.

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