People watch as workers hang the official poster of the 76th Cannes Film Festival featuring a photograph of actress Catherine Deneuve by Jack Garofalo, on the facade of the Palais des Festivals in Cannes, southeastern France, on May 14, 2023. Image: Valery HACHE / AFPA
record seven women directors are competing for the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival — a third of the total — but activists say deep-rooted obstacles remain for women and minorities. Things have improved at Cannes since 2012, when there were zero women in the main competition, but it has been painstaking progress.
Only two women have ever won the Palme d'Or — France's Julia Ducournau for "Titane" in 2021 and New Zealand's Jane Campion for "The Piano" in 1993.
"We are delighted with this number of directors in competition but it's worrying that progress is so slow," said Clementine Charlemaine of France's 50/50 Collective, which campaigns for greater female representation.
Away from the dazzle of the red carpet, the problems are worse than the festival numbers suggest.
Despite roughly half of film school students being women, only 21 percent of European movies between 2017 and 2021 had female directors, according to the European Audiovisual Observatory.
Other major festivals also struggle to find female-led films, with the Berlinale never surpassing seven.
The Venice Film Festival has fared slightly better, with women winning its Golden Lion for three years running.
"The seed of awareness is starting to produce effects," said Fabienne Silvestre of the Lab Femmes de Cinema, a French think tank focused on the issue.
"But women have difficulty projecting themselves into a long career in cinema... and with asking for large sums of money," she added.
Three-quarters of films by French women have a budget under four million euros ($4.4 million), according to the 50/50 Collective.
The struggles faced by women are compounded when it comes to ethnic minorities.
Britain's Times Up, which initially focused on problems faced by women in the wake of MeToo, is focusing more on race this year, bringing a delegation of black producers to Cannes to help build their profile.
"It feels to me there has been some pushback against MeToo and Black Lives Matter, that we're losing some of the gains we were making," its chair, Dame Heather Rabbatts, told AFP.
"It's reassuring that we've got more female talent coming through but this year's selection at Cannes is not strong in terms of black women," she said.
Some countries — notably Austria and Britain — are experimenting with quotas to force productions to include more women and minorities.
The Oscars will require proof of diversity in their cast, crew or subject matter to qualify for Best Picture from next year.
"Festivals shine a light on these issues but the pipeline and structural problems remain. Black producers struggle to access the investor community," said Rabbatts.
"It's like 'Jerry Maguire' — show me the money!"