Cannes 2019: Festival makes a strong case for diversity as black, queer artists gain prominence
In the Cannes 2019 competition selection, Mati Diop became the first black woman to be nominated for her richly imagined and metaphorically told, Atlantique
Even as Hollywood is slowly inching towards racial diversity with blockbusters like Black Panther, Crazy Rich Asians and, Blackklanssman featuring non-Caucasian lead characters, Cannes seems to pull out all the stops with several diverse inclusions this year. This year at the Croisette on the French Riviera, there were telltale signs that 'diversity' is the buzz word, especially at the lineup.
In the competition selection, Mati Diop became the first black woman to be nominated for her richly imagined and metaphorically told, partly supernatural, partly social justice commentary set in Dakar, Senegal, Atlantique. Diop is of mixed race, born to Senegalese and French parents.
At the Croisette though, it seemed to receive mixed responses but has nevertheless been hailed as a huge achievement for a first-time feature film director for its treatment of complex themes like immigration and neo-Afro-feminism. Though Diop was moved by the honour, she mentioned she was also sad. At the press conference, she said, "It's pretty late and it's incredible that it is still relevant."
Screening in the festival's Un Certain Regard is another first, Port Authority, a gritty gender drama. Starring Leyna Bloom in an affecting role, it is the festival's first movie led by a transgender woman of colour. In portraying a transgender woman in her own skin, director Danielle Lessovitz’s Port Authority breaks many grounds by including several amateur actors from the LGBTQ community, leading the charge for better representation and authenticity of portrayal. Coming from the US, Port Authority will also have global appeal, increasing its outreach.
On the gender representation front, Cannes is making progress, and that comes a year after 82 female industry professionals took to the red carpet in a silent protest to signify the lack of representation of women. Given that there were only 82 women directors in the festival’s history that had otherwise hosted 1688 male directors since 1946, the protest was a much-needed effort to draw attention to the disparity.
Close on the heels of the festival’s last year formation of a charter called Collectif 50/50 that publishes data on gender representation at film festivals, Berlinale upped the ante on female representation this year by inviting Juliet Binochet to head the jury. At Cannes this year, the Lebanese actor and director of the festival smash hit Capernaum from 2018, heads the Un Certain Regard jury (which also consists of two other women).
As far as gender representation is concerned though, festival director Thierry Frémaux felt the scope of festivals is somewhat limited. “We’re the echo or reflection of what’s going on in the film industry. If there were more female directors in the industry, there would be more female directors at Cannes. It’s a question that shouldn’t just come up at Cannes; it should be on the agenda all year around,” he told Screen magazine, speaking on the sidelines of the festival.
Where progress can be made, Cannes seems to be prioritising it by promoting initiatives like Collectif 50/50.
One such initiative is the festival, Women In Motion awards, launched some years ago to shine a light on the contribution of women in the film industry, is celebrating its fifth year. In its few years of existence, the platform has so far honoured an array of women talent. Its recipients range from the hugely successful and accomplished superstars like Jane Fonda and Geena Davis to young talents like Leyla Bouzid, Gaya Jiji, Ida Panahandeh and Mayasaloun Hamud.
Though these achievements may seem minor, they’re nevertheless significant in a changing the media landscape still dominated by narratives decided by major studios where white men are at the helm.
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