From Cannes to Hollywood: Women still shut out of film jobs that don't require cleavage

image via Slant Magazine

That springtime film festival somewhere in the south of France is now fully under way, and we’re sad to spread the word: there are no female-directed films in competition at Cannes this year. Not that things are much better here in the US. Only five percent of the past year’s big, studio films were helmed by ladies. What gives?

You can always depend on the French to condemn just about every injustice under the sun, and this precedent of a boys-only Palme d’Or shortlist is no exception. A vociferous and artfully tongue-in-cheek letter by feminist collective La Barbe (or The Beard) has been going around, signed by BAISE MOI director Virginie Despentes among others, condemning the fact that all 22 entries for the coveted top prize are directed by men (and now there’s a protest for you English speakers out there–you should sign it, Gloria Steinem already has). One favorite quote has already been making the rounds (and probably sounds even better in the original français): “Men love depth in women, but only in their cleavage.” The letter hastens to point out that in all of Cannes’ history, only one woman has taken home the golden frond–and that would be Jane Campion for 1993′s THE PIANO (shameless plug: Campion’s latest project, the mini-series TOP OF THE LAKE, will air on Sundance Channel).

The Festival directors were quick to defend themselves, with selection committee head Thierry Fremaux reminding that half of those charged with nominating films this year were of the female persuasion, and going on to state the all-too-obvious: ”When it comes to cinema there is no doubt that the role of women must be increased. But this problem does not just exist in the month of May during Cannes, it’s all year and always…. Accusing the festival serves no purpose.”

Regardless of whether the Cannes testosterone parade is more about artistic merit as opposed to genitalia, this is just the latest (and most international) instance of a trend everybody’s all too familiar with: the rate at which women gain credibility behind the camera—and not just as pretty young things in front of it—has been staggeringly slow over the years.

And that ain’t all. As a recent study published by The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film (we love that this center exists) at San Diego State University reports, actresses portraying anything other than PYT’s—for instance, women of substance and power like Meryl Streep’s Oscar-clincher as THE IRON LADY last year—make up an alarmingly paltry bunch. According to The Wrap, the report details how Hollywood’s representation of women has remained extremely focused on youth, frailty and beauty (like, say, Marilyn Monroe, who is this year’s Cannes icon), and how the general appearance of women in major roles is still way too meager. We’ll spare you the statistical nitty-gritty, but only one third of all the major characters in last year’s highest-grossing American films were of the female persuasion. Gosh, a whole third! And that was actually an improvement on previous years, thanks to films like THE HELP and TWILIGHT part whatever (we never thought we’d say this, but thanks KStew). We’ll see if this year changes things much, with Jennifer Lawrence already making quite a (box office) impression with THE HUNGER GAMES (then again, THE AVENGERS is set to clobber HUNGER in dollars, and is practically all male—but perhaps that’s how Scarlett Johansson likes it). Vulture selected other pertinent (and depressing) stats from the study, like how only five percent of 2011′s highest-grossing movies were directed by women.

Which brings us back to directors. It might be a sad state of affairs for women filmmakers, but hey—we love ‘em! Want proof? Check out these phenomenal upcoming films on Sundance Channel, all female-helmed:

  • THE LAST MISTRESS: Well here’s a French film directed by a broad! Catherine Breillat directs the ever-enticing Asia Argento in this seductive portrait of a 19th century ‘sexually insatiable courtesan’. Meow. Tonight at 10P and Tuesday at 11P.
  • MY YEAR WITHOUT SEX: What do you do when the doctor tells you to avoid all stress, including sex, at the risk of potential death? If you are a man, you probably drop dead. If you are a woman, you watch this wonderful Australian film by Sarah Watt. Saturday at 4:15P
  • LOVELY AND AMAZING: The illustrious Nicole Holofcener has been making films for over 15 years, and this 2001 entry is arguably her best work (look for Emily Mortimer’s brilliantly honest assessment of her nude self). Also, pretty young thing Jake Gyllenhaal should be reason enough to watch (men can and should be objectified just as easily). Sunday at 10P.