Yesterday, in the wake of the accusations of sexual abuse directed at Harvey Weinstein, the Cannes film festival issued an official response condemning his actions, and the organisations that runs the Academy Awards, previously known as the Oscars, were said to be considering their own course of action.
Is this response a sign of the industry finally starting to change for the better? It would be nice to think so, but a more likely explanation is that the two institutions are merely protecting themselves by casting Weinstein as a lone bad apple.
You don;t need to look too deeply into the history of Cannes and the Academy Awards to find signs of a deeper industry-wide problem with how it treats women, of which Harvey Weinstein is a particularly horrific illustration.
Cannes has for a long time been accused of ignoring women, particularly in their film selection. This year, of 20 films selected in competition, only three were directed by women – a typical number for the festival, which as recently as 2013 only had one film by a woman in competition for the Palme d’Or. A woman has only won the Palme once in the festival’s 70 years – Jane Campion, for The Piano, 24 years ago. While it’s true that there is a smaller pool of films made by women to pick from, the festival’s seeming determination to pick an overwhelming majority of men is begins to look political.
This year, a campaign spearheaded by Agnes Films’ Alexandra Hidalgo, Moms-in-Film’s Mathilde Dratwa and Directed by Women founder Barbara Ann O’Lear wrote to the festival asking for better provision of childcare, arguing that female creatives are sidelined by not being able to bring their children to the festival. Director Anne-Marie Jacir found she was unable to attend a meeting because she could not bring her baby into the festival without a badge. Though minor injustices compared to assault, these issues testify to an industry that does not listen to women, or treat them as equals.
Meanwhile, the festival has selected Roman Polanski in competition three times in fifteen years, most recently this year. Its statement on Weinstein decries “a pattern of behaviour that merits only the clearest and most unequivocal condemnation” – but four women have accused Polanski of assault, and he has been found guilty of rape. Woody Allen, another regular guest of the festival, had the Hollywood Reporter barred from a press conference in 2016 after it published an article by his son Ronan Farrow (who wrote the New Yorker’s Weinstein exposé earlier this week) in which he renewed the allegations of rape against Allen by his sister Dylan Farrow.
Woody Allen is of course a regular nominee at the Academy Awards, which was yesterday deciding whether to revoke Weinstein’s membership – something that they have so far not done for Bill Cosby, Robert Blake or Roman Polanski.
The Academy, in its 88 years, has nominated fewer women for Best Director (four, with one win for Kathryn Bigelow) than it has nominated men accused or convicted of ill treating, harressing or abusing women (at least five, with wins for Allen, Polanski, Bernardo Bertolucci and Mel Gibson).
These cases show that women are considered unequal in the industry as a whole – as Emma Thompson remarked yesterday on Newsnight when she said that Weinstein’s behaviour was part of an endemic culture in the industry. It’s this inequality that allowed Weinstein to prey on women: the actor Florence Darel, talking about Weinstein’s harassment of her in 1994, noted yesterday that she was shocked that she was nothing more than an object to him, or currency.
A failure to see women as equal creators enables predators like Weinstein to treat women as mere bodies. Supporting the work of abusers sends a message women can all to easily understand.
For organisations to cut off Weinstein – as the British Academy of Film and Television has done by suspending his membership – is not enough. Weinstein’s case shows that this behaviour is everywhere, and has been for years. A wholesale revolution in the industry needs to be undertaken, so that men in positions of power are unable to continue in impunity. Weinstein may have been fired from the board of his own company, but many famous actors who have been accused of harassment or assault still get to work on prestigious films, facing little or no scrutiny for their actions. We know from the Weinstein case and others that these accusations often end up going nowhere, because the accusers have no power and the accused have all of it. Hollywood, and the film industry at large, is still enabling toxic male behaviour. While there may be some hope that the Weinstein case will result in positive change, it looks from here as if he will merely be jettisoned so that things may continue as they always have.