Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 November 2019

Men have won the top prize at Cannes 91 times, a woman has won once: those odds are awful

Jane Campion won in 1993, but she actually shared the honour with male Chinese director Chen Kaige

Last year female film personalities joined arms at one of the festival's premieres to protest the lack of female filmmakers honoured. They included, from left to right, Saudi filmmaker Haifaa al-Mansour, actors Kirsten Stewart and Lea Seydoux, singer Khadja Nin, filmmaker Ava DuVernay, actor Cate Blanchett and the late Agnes Varda. Getty Images 
Last year female film personalities joined arms at one of the festival's premieres to protest the lack of female filmmakers honoured. They included, from left to right, Saudi filmmaker Haifaa al-Mansour, actors Kirsten Stewart and Lea Seydoux, singer Khadja Nin, filmmaker Ava DuVernay, actor Cate Blanchett and the late Agnes Varda. Getty Images 

First of all, I'd like to congratulate Bong Joon-Ho on his Palme d'Or win. Mother, Snowpiercer and Okja were all remarkable, very watchable films. I'm sure Parasite is no different, making him a worthy winner of the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

That still does not change the fact that there has never been a year in which a woman has alone won the top award at the world's most prominent global film festival. New Zealand filmmaker Jane Campion won for The Piano in 1993, but she had to share that year with Chen Kaige for Farewell My Concubine.

The top prize at Cannes, now called the Palme d'Or and previously called the Grand Prix, has been handed out since 1939 – some years there were no awards, due to world wars and national incidents. Other years, however, multiple films won. In total, it's been given out 92 times in nine decades.

So, for nine decades it's been deemed that only one woman – Campion – has made a film that should be considered the best in the world, and even then she shared her honour with a man.

It's not particularly common to give the award to two different filmmakers in one year. Multiple awards have been given out at 12 festivals, the last being in 1997; so the decision to have Campion share her award was far from the standard.

But, most importantly, 91 times out of 92 a male perspective was considered more revered, more artistic, more honourable than a female one. Those odds are awful.

This year, 21 films competed for the Palme d’Or, but only four of those were directed by women. Those odds are awful. (You can read more about those four filmmakers here.)

And if you say, "Yeah, but they shouldn't start handing the award out to directors just because they are women", you're missing the issue.

Even if those 91 male-helmed films were in fact the best movies by far, and the judges over time haven't been biased (which is highly unlikely), the fact that we live in a world in which women aren't in positions to make enough films to be statistically in the running for the Palme d'Or is symptomatic of a far larger problem.

And that problem is the patriarchy.

CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 25: Director Bong Joon-Ho, winner of the Palme d'Or award for his film "Parasite" speaks at the Closing Ceremony Press Conference during the 72nd annual Cannes Film Festival on May 25, 2019 in Cannes, France. (Photo by John Phillips/Getty Images)
Bong Joon-Ho is a fantastic filmmaker, and a deserving winner of the Palme d'Or. His award is the 91st time a man's been given it. A woman? Once.

When I say 'patriarchy', I'm not talking about individual men. This is much bigger than all of us. It's insidious, pervasive and often invisible (until you start to really think about the stats).

Think of the romantic scenes in movies, they are, almost without fail, filmed from the male perspective. The woman is the object, the man the 'actor', the one whose reason, rationale and thoughts we revere, dissect and honour.

To regularly see the man as the 'object' in such a scene would be such a change, it would be seen as shocking.

The fact that French-Tunisian director Abdellatif Kechiche's Mektoub, My Love: Intermezzo was in the running for the Palme d'Or this year symbolises the acceptance of the overtly male gaze: his film is practically narrative free, and spends its almost four hours ogling at young women's bodies. Really, quite literally.

That's not ground-breaking, it's gross. It's not art, it's one man's idea of a good time.

Yes, I know there are far more pressing issues for women across the world (particularly for those in the Global South) than who wins a prize at a fancy French film festival. And yes, I also know that a woman winning this year would not topple the cinematic patriarchy and undo the centuries of the male gaze in cinema and beyond.

But, that doesn't change the fact that I wish I lived in a world in which female-driven perspectives had had enough screen time over nine decades to create a better statistic than 91 to 1.

Speaking of the male gaze, look at the photographers standing behind Antonio Banderas here:

CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 25: Antonio Banderas, winner of the Best Actor award for "Dolor Y Gloria", poses at the winner photocall during the 72nd annual Cannes Film Festival on May 25, 2019 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
Antonio Banderas is photographed after winning the Best Actor award for 'Dolor Y Gloria' at Cannes on Saturday night. Getty Images

Updated: May 26, 2019 09:10 PM

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