In 2021, the Cannes Film Festival screened films from an unprecedented number of women and people of color, more than any other year. Director Julia Ducournau won the Palme d’Or for her film Titanium, becoming only the second woman to do so. This win gave people hope that perhaps the change was coming from the male-dominated white festival.
But with the initial reveal of the Cannes lineup last month, it appeared things were back to business as usual, with women and POC content largely excluded. Later additions to the list included five films directed or co-directed by women competing for the first time. But is it enough? Change is happening slowly, but years of exclusion have proven detrimental to many filmmakers who exist on the fringes, and few established voices seemed willing to speak out. That is until a new wave of women decided to face the problem head-on.
The difficulty in drawing attention to the problems of under-representation lies, in part, in French law. The National Commission for Computing and Liberties has banned the collection of personal data and statistics showing the distribution of racial and ethnic origins, health status, sexual orientation and religion. As the numbers do not exist, there is no documented evidence that indicates where the French film and television industry is lacking. But just because the numbers aren’t there doesn’t mean the problem is going unnoticed, and the voices calling for change are getting louder. Joining Deadline’s class of Disruptors this year, directors CÃ©line Sciamma and Amandine Gay, and actresses AÃ¯ssa MaÃ¯ga, AdÃ¨le Haenel and NadÃ¨ge Beausson-Diagne represent the vanguard of the fight, using their words, content and activism to challenge the status quo and question the past. views of a white, male-dominated industry. Here’s how they did it.
Queer filmmaker, activist and scholar Amandine Gay continually pushes back against the notion of universalism with her words and content. His feature film, a documentary titled express yourself (open voice), brings to the fore the lives of black women living in France, offering an intimate portrait and a truthful analysis of what it means to be black and to be a woman living in France and Belgium.
The film sparked conversations about race and gender, which brought the taboo subject of intersectionality to the fore. But because his film showed France was not the racial utopia many would believe, Gay had to self-produce and self-distribute. In 2017, the film was released in theaters in France, Belgium, Switzerland and Canada. Many accused it of fostering division within French society, but The New Yorker hailed the film as âa vital film in itself and a virtual kit for the inspiration of other filmmakers; it is an opening of voices and paths.
His second documentary, A story of its own is set to open up a whole new discussion about adoption and adoptees, as the film chronicles five transracial and transnational adoptees and their experiences.
In November 2019, French actress AdÃ¨le Haenel accused director Christophe Ruggia of sexual abuse and attempting to groom her between the ages of 12 and 15. Speaking out is still rare among women in all industries, but she was one of the first to speak out publicly. on abuse in the country’s entertainment industry, two years after the #MeToo movement created by black activist Tarana Burke kicked into high gear. Haenel’s speaking out inspired other women to tell their stories of abuse as well.
Today she is one of France’s most acclaimed young actresses, having been nominated for seven CÃ©sars by the age of 30, and winning two. She was nominated for another CÃ©sar for her role in Portrait of a lady on fire. She led the walkout at the Cesar Awards that year when Roman Polanski received the Best Director award, and she shouted “Shame!” [The shame!]as she left.
The actress has ignited a feminist flame among women in France who continue to demand change from the government in the way it handles abuse and harassment. Haenel is always at the forefront of these marches, acutely aware of the power her platform gives her to discuss these issues out loud.
Actress, director and producer AÃ¯ssa MaÃ¯ga made her acting debut in the 1997 film, Saraka Bo. Since then, she has performed a wide range of roles and each performance is executed with fearlessness, sincerity and confidence. However, during her years in the profession, she had noticed a pattern of racist behavior in the French film industry that she could not ignore.
She was one of the participants in the organized demonstration against racism in the French film industry which took place at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. The actress linked arms with 15 other black French actresses as they marched on the red carpet to the steps of the iconic Palais des Festivals. Her big Disruptor moment came in an act of onstage defiance at the 2020 CÃ©sar Awards. In front of a predominantly white audience, MaÃ¯ga spoke about the discriminatory treatment of actors of color and how stereotypical black actor roles continue to dominate the choices of cast. âWe survived whitewashing, blackface, tons of dealer roles, housekeepers with a Bwana accent; we survived the roles of terrorists, all the roles of hypersexualized girls, but we are not going to leave French cinema alone, âshe said. The speech left the audience stunned in silence.
Did she make people angry? Yes. Did that stop her in any way? MaÃ¯ga kept her word, realizing that she had to be the change, and now the actress is creating the content she wants to see. With his feature documentary, black lookMaÃ¯ga gave a platform to black actresses around the world to relay their stories of racism, sexism and colorism in the industry.
Writer and director CÃ©line Sciamma has started a movement, without meaning to. His film Portrait of a lady on fire brought the discussion back to the female gaze and how it had been explored by male-dominated cinematic history. The film inspired a generation of young women who raise signs at French feminist marches saying, âWe are the girls on fireâ. As a lesbian out, Sciamma has never been afraid to criticize the current state of French cinema and television, acknowledging that it is very white, masculine and bourgeois.
That’s why Sciamma, along with others including actresses LÃ©a Seydoux and Lily Rose Depp, has backed the 50/50 campaign, which aims to achieve gender parity in the industry. This caused many industry traditionalists to look away from his accomplishments. This was evident when she told the Guardian how the French press reacted to Portrait. “In France, they don’t find the film hot,” Sciamma says in a neutral tone. “[They think] it lacks flesh, it’s not erotic. It seems there are some things they cannot receive.
His contempt for the status quo came to a head during the 2020 Cesars in which Roman Polanski – who was convicted of sexual abuse in the United States in the 1970s – won the Cesar for best director.
She left the ceremony in protest along with actors AdÃ¨le Haenel, NoÃ¨mie Merlant, AÃ¯ssa MaÃ¯ga and others. It validated everything she said about the industry’s desire to keep its head in the sand. But now, it’s up to the world to see. As change slowly takes hold in France, none of the naysayers have stopped her from putting queer ideals and women at the forefront of the stories she chooses to tell.
Paris-born actress, singer and poet NadÃ¨ge Beausson-Diagne is a strong and proud activist in the French film and television industry. She was present at the Cannes Film Festival in 2018, walking hand in hand with other black actresses to protest against the under-representation of black and mixed-race women and the clichÃ©s of which they are the object. Throughout her career, she has heard several anti-black comments referring to her skin color and language, calling her too black or not black enough.
Alongside AdÃ¨le Haenel, in 2019, she also shared her experiences of sexual abuse and sexual assault. NadÃ¨ge posted on her Instagram account of her experiences saying, “I too was the victim of sexual harassment and sexual assault on two sets in Africa. It was a very long time ago. The pain has been swallowed up. Today am ready to speak up today to help release that word and get my life back.
The actress turned her pain into acts of resistance by publicly speaking out against issues of race and gender. By sharing her story and stepping onto the pavement to fight for women’s rights, she stands alongside CÃ©line Sciamma, AÃ¯ssa MaÃ¯ga, AdÃ¨le Haenel, Amandine Gay and others determined to make French industry a best place.