No Women for Cannes; Sexism or Smarts in Short Supply

21 May

By Comic Relief

Certainly without controversial decisions and dissenting voices we would not have the discord that has erupted around Cannes female nominations regarding the Palme d’or directorial prize.    If you have not heard, of the 22 films designated for the competition prize consideration, no women directors were considered.  The outrage stimulated by that festival incidentally helped draw out many of our popular notions and feelings in regard to gender equality and gender equity in film.  But before we talk about these ideas we should first cover a few essential facts regarding the festival.

Regarding the 2012 festival; of the 22 nominations went to men in regard to the quality of their films [1].  This means all of these films were judged as exceptional within the sphere of international filmmaking.  In what the AFP describes as the “new talent section”, two women directors were nominated [2].

It was the activist group featuring Virginie Despentes, Fanny Cottençon, and Coline Serreau or La Barbe (The Beard) that wrote in an op-ed article in the weekend edition of Le Monde and The Guardian newspapers [3].  Petitions would later follow from France as well as the United States at the activist site [4]. According to the Huffington post’s Joe Satran, the written protest by La Barbe claimed, “the committee that chooses French films is unknown”.  The festival artistic director (Thierry) Frémaux dominates the committee that chooses foreign films. (It’s not a controversial view; Variety refers to it as “his selection committee [5].”

  • According to USA today entertainment reporter Bryan Alexander’s interpretation of events, it was these covert society secrecies that La Barbe targeted when they claimed; “We call for Cannes, and other film festivals worldwide, to commit to transparency and equality in the selection process of these films [6].”

Alison Nastasi of the Guardian noted that La Barbes letter featured a lot of pointed and satirical criticism. “ … Never let the girls think they can one day have the presumptuousness to make movies or to climb those famous Festival Palace steps, except when attached to the arm of a prince charming,” the letter jabbed [7].”

Thierry Frémaux would make most of the statements associated with our understanding of the festivals values, practices, and judging processes. According to’s Paula Schwartz; Mr. Frémaux responded by saying: “I select work on the basis of its actual qualities. We never select a film that doesn’t deserve it on the basis it was made by a woman [8].”

According to the associated presses Jill Lawless;

  •  “Thierry Frémaux argues it’s not his fault that filmmaking remains primarily “a male sport. [9]”  ‘”I don’t select films because the film is directed by a man, a woman, white, black, young, an old man,” said Fremaux, who has led the festival since 2001.I select films because I think they deserve to be in selection [10].”

And of course Frémaux has his supporters in print and internet media.’s Ali Naderzad chimed in: “Ladies, women make just as many bad movies as men do. Instead of so much defeatism, celebrate the festival programmers who manage each year to choose the twenty or so best films (out of thousands of not so good ones) [11].”, writer Alison Nastasi notes that last time the award was won by a woman. “In 1993, Jane Campion’s 1850s New Zealand drama The Piano starring Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, and Sam Neill won the Palme, with Hunter also taking home the prize for Best Actress [12].”   The author also compiled a new century list of female award nominations at Cannes [13].

2011 Maïwenn Polisse
2011 Julia Leigh Sleeping Beauty
2011 Lynne Ramsay We Need to Talk About Kevin
2011 Naomi Kawase Hanezu
2009 Jane Campion Bright Star
2009 Andrea Arnold Fish Tank
2009 Isabel Coixet Map of the Sounds of Tokyo
2008 Lucrecia Martel The Headless Woman
2008 Walter Salles, Daniela Thomas Linha de Passe
2007 Naomi Kawase Mogari no mori
2007 Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud Persepolis
2007 Catherine Breillat The Last Mistress
2006 Andrea Arnold Red Road
2006 Sofia Coppola Marie Antoinette
2006 Nicole Garcia Charlie Says
2004 Agnès Jaoui Look at Me
2004 Lucrecia Martel The Holy Girl
2003 Samira Makhmalbaf At Five in the Afternoon
2003 Nicole Garcia The Adversary
2003 Naomi Kawase Shara
2001 Vicky Jenson, Andrew Adamson Shrek
2001 Catherine Corsini Replay
2000 Samira Makhmalbaf Blackboards
2000 Liv Ullmann Faithless

Please join our discussion Tuesday 5/22/2012@7pmE/12UTC


Article References:



[3] La Barbe, Le Monde and The Guardian newspapers



[6] Bryan Alexander, USA TODAY








37 Responses to “No Women for Cannes; Sexism or Smarts in Short Supply”

  1. Open Book May 21, 2012 at 4:02 PM #

    I tend to agree about selecting a film on merit rather then if its made by a man or a women etc…However, I think with more transparency on how films are selected to be in the festival would help Cannes creditbility toward judging. They seem to have female directors nominated every other year? If u look at the list above. What’s up with that pattern?

    • Comic Relief May 22, 2012 at 11:38 AM #


      “…on merit rather than if it’s made by a man or a women etc.”

      Though I agree with your sentiment (generally), I don’t think you arrive at parity by ignoring the problem of historic sexism. In the USA the reason millions of institutions are wheelchair accessible, provide elevators, have automatic doors etc., is because we take seriously the rights of the physically challenged and elderly seriously. Because of a lot of the activism of a frequently stressed and hardworking community, our society is (now) committed to a world where they can fully participate (and should and will be fully present). Once access is resolved we can consider the quality of what they do, create, or influence within the interior of these buildings.

      I imagine without that commitment you end up with Cannes’ every other year receptive phenomenon.

      • Comic Relief May 22, 2012 at 11:39 AM #

        I don’t think this is an easy overall problem to resolve but trying to hide behind pretentious quality standards got old decades ago. Though I don’t believe quotas are an exclusive or conclusive answer, IMHO excluding half of the population only happens by intent.

  2. littlebells May 21, 2012 at 4:32 PM #

    great article CR! I saw this on different websites and was hooping we would get a chance to discuss this. I have to say I am pretty shocked that out of 22 names, not one is female.

    • Open Book May 21, 2012 at 5:13 PM #

      I know this Q was for CR but I want to ask a Q.

      Do u believe a film should be judged on the basis of gender or race? ITA its hard to imagine not one female director was selected but I don’t think race or gender should be an issue when selecting a film. What do u think of the previous female nominees from past festivals?

      • littlebells May 21, 2012 at 11:33 PM #

        first question: no I don’t think films should be judged on the basis of gender or race? Am I surprised that women didn’t make it this year? Yeah, sure, but I’m not going to put up a big stink about it. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! I think a film should be judged on it’s material, direction, production, emotion, etc…

        I’ll be back for the second question. 🙂

        • ozzie20 May 22, 2012 at 7:47 PM #

          I too think it should be base on the quality of work and not the director’s gender, race, age, etc.

          It seems when women have been noiminated in the previous years, there’s atleast two on the list (going off the list in the article), which is good news.

    • Comic Relief May 22, 2012 at 11:41 AM #

      Thanks LB,

      Really, it’s a sick statistic. I haven’t seen every (or any) of the nominated films yet I would bet the first 15 are probably hard to argue with. After that, the rest are probably just filler to explain away the bias against women.

      Though I have not seen either film, it’s easy to forget that (loaded and connected) Oscar winner Angelina Jolie and Madonna (who has won ALMOST every entertainment award in existence) were rejected in favor of the final 7. C’mon.

      • Comic Relief May 22, 2012 at 11:42 AM #


        I would look at my previous answer but as history proves I think a lot of white men have made breath-taking and innovative films. As history also proves, a lot of white men make crap. Contrary to popular combative logic, but not because they are white men but because they don’t have the experience, haven’t worked hard enough, took short cuts, or produced from the wrong desires, expectations, or motives.

        I think excluding on the basis of race and gender sucks. Frequently these exclusions retard our ability to understand how difference informs the human experience.

  3. Open Book May 21, 2012 at 5:13 PM #

    P.S. Great article CR!!

    • Comic Relief May 22, 2012 at 11:43 AM #

      Thanks OB. I had a lot of help.

  4. Comic Relief May 22, 2012 at 6:08 PM #

    Honestly, what is sad is that evaluating critics of the festival have been distracted from focusing on many really successful films. There are a great many dynamic films that are at the competition to win awards, find distribution, and make allies and fans. Thanks to the festival judges this juvenile sexism issue is a really terrible interruption in what should have only been a victory lap for some really powerful creators and work. Film Festival 2012: Stars come out to shine on film festival red carpet

  5. Comic Relief May 22, 2012 at 6:30 PM #

    Here’s a short list of admirable films that need to return to the spotlight.

    1. Cosmopolis:
    Riding across Manhattan in a stretch limo in order to get a haircut, a 28-year-old billionaire asset manager’s day devolves into an odyssey with a cast of characters that start to tear his world apart. (From IMDB)

  6. Comic Relief May 22, 2012 at 6:31 PM #

    2. Moonrise Kingdom:
    A pair of young lovers flee their New England town, which causes a local search party to fan out and find them. (From IMDB)

  7. Comic Relief May 22, 2012 at 6:31 PM #

    3. Rust & Bone:
    Put in charge of his young son, Ali leaves the north of France for Antibes to live with his sister and her husband as a family. Ali’s bond with Stephanie, a killer whale trainer, grows deeper after Stephanie suffers a horrible accident.

  8. Comic Relief May 22, 2012 at 7:04 PM #

    Hello new and returning visitors.

    Regarding content trends, has anyone noticed that there is a pervasive number of alienation themes apparent in the nominee’s films?

  9. littlebells May 22, 2012 at 7:17 PM #

    HI CR!

    How are films selected for the competition? Is it by one person or a panel? Are there certain requirements?

    • Comic Relief May 22, 2012 at 7:22 PM #

      Hi LB,

      Give me a second, I’ll check it out.

  10. Comic Relief May 22, 2012 at 7:26 PM #

    This is really long but covers a lot of material

  11. Comic Relief May 22, 2012 at 7:27 PM #

    The festival website says this:
    Films In Competition, Out of Competition, Un Certain Regard


    The Selection Committee of the Festival de Cannes is exclusively in charge of the following sections of the Official Selection: Competition (short and feature films), Out of Competition and Un Certain Regard. The selection Committee decides which section a film can participate in. For feature film submissions to Cannes Classics, please contact Van Papadopoulos here.

    The non-official sections Directors’ Fortnight and Critics’ Week are independent of the Cannes Film Festival. They are in charge of their own respective selections.


    Only films (feature and short) that meet the following conditions may be chosen for invitation to the Official Selection:
    • Films that have been produced during the twelve months preceding the Festival
    • Films whose distribution is limited to its country of origin
    • Films that have not been presented in any international motion picture event. If the film (feature or short) has been selected in an international section (competitive or not) of a festival, it becomes ineligible for the Festival de Cannes. A selection is international if it presents films from different countries.
    • Films that have not been shown on the Internet
    • Short films that do not exceed 15 minutes in length, including credits


    In order to be selected in the short film competition, your film must be less than 15 minutes long (including credits).
    In order to be selected as a feature film, your film must be more than 60 minutes long.

    The Festival de Cannes does not accept films that have a duration between 15 and 60 minutes.

    All short films (from 1 to 35 minutes) can be registered for the Short Film Corner: a meeting place dedicated to short films inside the Festival de Cannes.

    You can also contact the Directors’ Fortnight or the Critics’ Week which are parallel sections of the Festival de Cannes.

    • littlebells May 22, 2012 at 7:29 PM #

      Thank you CR! That was really helpful! Are there any films in particular, aside from the ones you posted, that you are interested in seeing?

  12. ozzie20 May 22, 2012 at 7:38 PM #

    Hi all!

    Very interesting article, CR! 🙂

  13. Comic Relief May 22, 2012 at 7:49 PM #

    I gave you the requirements, these are the juries. Given the lists, one can only assume they work as a panel(s).

    Nanni MORETTI: President of the jury – Feature film
    • Hiam ABBASS: Actress
    • Andrea ARNOLD: Director
    • Emmanuelle DEVOS: Actress
    • Jean-Paul GAULTIER: Fashion designer
    • Diane KRUGER: Actress
    • Alexander PAYNE: Director
    • Raoul PECK: Director

    Jean-Pierre DARDENNE; President of the jury –
    Cinefondation & short films
    Members of the jury
    • Karim AINOUZ:
    • Emmanuel CARRERE: Writer
    • Arsinée KHANJIAN: Actress
    • YU Lik Wai: Director

    Tim ROTH (Actor, Director) President of the jury – Un Certain Regard
    Members of the jury
    • Leïla BEKHTI
    • Tonie MARSHALL: Director
    • Luciano MONTEAGUDO
    • Sylvie PRAS:Artistic Director of La Rochelle Film Festival

    Carlos DIEGUES; President of the jury – Golden Camera
    Members of the jury
    • Michel ANDRIEU: Director
    • Remy CHEVRIN: Cinematographer
    • Francis GAVELLE: Critic
    • Hervé ICOVIC: Artistic director
    • Gloria SATTA: Journalist

    • littlebells May 22, 2012 at 8:14 PM #

      I recognize one name! Hang on…running errands. Hate multitasking.

      • ozzie20 May 22, 2012 at 8:22 PM #

        I did not know Tim Roth was on the panel! I thought Ewan McGregor was on it too? I must of mistaken another actor for him, lol!

        • littlebells May 22, 2012 at 8:23 PM #

          Make that two names!

          Hi Ozzie!

    • littlebells May 22, 2012 at 8:37 PM #


      How is the jury selected? Do they have to meet requirements?

      • Comic Relief May 22, 2012 at 8:48 PM #


        I have no idea in regard to credentials. I understand writers, actors, directors, and cinematographers. I don’t undertand a fashion designer; but Imagine Jean-Paul GAULTIER has done alot of stuff in his long carrier.

  14. Comic Relief May 22, 2012 at 7:56 PM #

    I would like to see these films;

    KILLING THEM SOFTLY directed by Andrew DOMINIK
    THE PAPERBOY directed by Lee DANIELS
    LAWLESS directed by John HILLCOAT

    • littlebells May 22, 2012 at 8:16 PM #

      Aaahhh! I hate my phone right now…what is it.about these.films appeals to you? How many women entered films?

      • Comic Relief May 22, 2012 at 8:40 PM #

        Groan. This is really terrible but I probably know of these films because they are in English and American critics were likely to talk about these movies. I saw roughly saw four foreign films last year so hopefully I may see many of the others this year.

        I really liked Brat Pitt in “Moneyball” last year. So I hope he may as good in “Killing Me Softly”; the cast includes Ray Liotta and James Gandolfini.

        I believe the paperboy is Lee Daniels first film since “Precious.” Nicole Kidman stars but a lot of actors are in it. Including Macy Gray, Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron, John Cusack, David Oyelowo, and Scott Glenn. Essentially the chracters are trying to exonerate a death row inmate.

        Lawless appears to be a depression era tale featuring bootleggers. I imagine the plotline willaddress a prohibition plotline. Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, and Jessica Chastain are all in the cast.

        • littlebells May 22, 2012 at 9:04 PM #

          These films look very good, I agree. I hope that many of these films make it to the big screen. I don’t have VOD but we do have a theater that will show most of these.

          • Comic Relief May 23, 2012 at 8:05 PM #

            AMEN. I agree LB!!!

            I’m really sorry for spending so much time on the egregious sexism and traditionalism in the article. The real point of the festival, (GREAT FILMS), get chewed up and forgotten when these juvenile politics take center stage.

  15. littlebells May 22, 2012 at 8:35 PM #

    I still need to see “We Need to Talk About Kevin.”

    • Comic Relief May 22, 2012 at 8:42 PM #

      I think Tilda Swinton is cool but I’m not sure about the content. I may have to catch that one later.

  16. Comic Relief May 22, 2012 at 8:55 PM #

    Unfortunately I have to go.

    Thanks for coming, everyone.

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