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Cate Blanchett Is This Year’s Jury President at Cannes…So, Why Can’t I Be Entirely Happy About It?

 

[UPDATED 9:10PM ET – Ed. note: The article below has been updated to reflect Isabelle Adjani’s correct heritage. Thank you to the TMS commenters who pointed it out.]

I love me some Cate Blanchett. I love her when she’s mainstream, and I love her when she’s artsy and weird. She’s not only a phenomenal actress, but she’s been the artistic director of a theater company, she’s been a producer, and she’s an outspoken feminist. All of these things make me thrilled that she’s just been chosen to be this year’s Jury President at the Cannes Film Festival. So…what’s this feeling of dissatisfaction that’s gnawing at me…?

The Festival de Cannes made the announcement of Blanchett’s selection earlier this morning, making her only the 12th woman in the festival’s now-72 year history to lead the main competition jury. So, there’s definite reason for excitement there!

Blanchett said in a statement, “I am humbled by the privilege and responsibility of presiding over this year’s jury. This festival plays a pivotal role in bringing the world together to celebrate story; that strange and vital endeavour that all peoples share, understand and crave.”

In a joint statement, Pierre Lescure, Festival de Cannes President and Thierry Frémaux, General Delegate said, “We are delighted to welcome such a rare and unique artist whose talent and convictions enrich both screen and stage. Our conversations from this autumn tell us she will be a committed President, a passionate woman and a big-hearted spectator.”

Her tastes are impeccable, and even when she does something that I’m not entirely keen on (I’m lookin’ at you, Crystal Skull), you understand why she’d choose to do it, and you respect the choice, even if you don’t like the thing.

When I read that she was only the 12th woman to hold this position, I of course wanted to see who the other women were: Olivia de Havilland, Sophia Loren (immediately after de Havilland! Back to back women in the ’60s! It can be done!), Michèle Morgan, Ingrid Bergman, Françoise Sagan, Jeanne Moreau (twice! 1975 and 1995), Isabelle Adjani, Liv Ullmann, Isabelle Huppert, Jane Campion, and now Blanchett.

So, she’s really the eleventh woman to hold this position, and it’s the twelfth time a woman has held it. In 72 years. That’s an important distinction, as it means that one less woman has actually had the opportunity.

Cue the beginnings of the gnawing feeling…

Something else these women have in common other than their gender? They’re mostly white. The one saving grace in 72 years is Isabelle Adjani, who was born and raised in France, but whose father was Algerian. And as a judge, she was representing France.

Looking at the full list of Presidents, there are a couple of things I’m noticing. For an “international” film festival, the judges seem to be predominantly from European countries, or the United States, with some Canada, New Zealand, and now Australia thrown in for flavor. South America was represented once in 1970 when Miguel Ángel Asturias was the Jury President. Asia seems to fare a little better, with two Jury Presidents, Tetsurō Furikake (Japan) and Wong Kar-wai (Hong Kong). Pretty paltry for 72 years.

You know what continent hasn’t had a Jury President at all? Africa. 

Bro, do these people even film? No seriously. Do they? Because it seems to me that true connoisseurs of film would be looking for quality everywhere. Do African countries have their own unique sociopolitical and economic challenges? Yes. Does that have an impact on their filmmaking? Of course it does. That’s precisely what makes films coming out of there so important. While I don’t expect the average American film buff to be all up on what’s going on in the film industries in African countries, I do expect the Cannes Film Festival to be.

And it’s not as if Africa is the only source of black filmmakers! I know this might come as a shock to some, but….the U.S. has black people in it. Some of them are even acclaimed filmmakers! France has black people. The U.K. has black people. You get the idea. Not only that, but many of the countries I’ve mentioned above have Indigenous populations (thanks, Colonialism!), members of which I’m sure have at some point held a camera and made a film.

Cannes entire job is to be an international celebration of and marketplace for great film. If they’re not getting entries from certain places or demographics, it behooves them to figure out why. If the Festival de Cannes as an organization purports to set any kind of standard for international film, they need to do way better at being representative of the world film market.

This isn’t to say that the festival has completely ignored, say, African filmmakers. Cannes has a history of showing at least some appreciation for African film.

However, choosing certain people to head the jury of the main competition sets a tone. It says, these are the people you need to impress. These are the gatekeepers. These people are the bar you need to clear. It gives the proceedings a lens through which competition films are going to be viewed. I’m thrilled that, this year, the jury will be focused through a female lens. I hope that, very soon, that female lens will be held by another woman of color. Hell, another person of color of any gender. And diversify from there.

(via Variety, image: screencap)

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