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Jessica Chastain Cannes.jpg

Jessica Chastain Calls Out "Disturbing" Portrayals of Women at Cannes

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Film | May 30, 2017 |

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Film | May 30, 2017 |

The Cannes Film Festival is over for another year, and all things considered, it seemed to go rather well. The prizes were given out, with Swedish director Ruben Östlund surprising critics by taking home the top prize, the Palme D’Or, for his comedy The Square. Other notable winners included Sofia Coppola claiming Best Director for The Beguiled (only the second woman ever to do so) and Lynne Ramsay cementing her comeback by getting Best Screenplay for You Were Never Really Here, making her the first solo woman writer to win it (her film also took home Best Actor for Joaquin Phoenix, and nobody was more shocked about that than him). Sadly, the number of female directors to win the Palme D’Or remains at one (Jane Campion).

The Jury who choose the winners have an impossible task ahead of them, and it’s a position infamous for in-fighting, pettiness, passive-aggressive seething, and score settling. Last year, under the presidency of George Miller, the jury made selections many considered outright stupid, including the shutting out of the best reviewed film of the year, Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann. This year’s jury was notable in their apparent lack of such squabbles. Everyone, shockingly, seemed to get on rather well, and while president Pedro Almodovar clearly favoured 120 Beats Per Minute for the top prize, he was still strident in his support of the ultimate winner. It almost made you miss the side-eye and friction of juries past.

One area where the jury was notably united lay in a point made by Jessica Chastain during the post-ceremony press conference. In a clearly emotional display, with other jury members nodding in agreement, she noted the troubling representation of women throughout the competition entries:

“This is the first time I’ve watched 20 films in 10 days, and I love movies. And the one thing I really took away from this experience is how the world views women from the female characters that were represented. It was quite disturbing to me, to be honest - with some exceptions… I hope when we include female storytellers they will be more like the women I know in my day-to-day life. They are proactive, have their own point of view and don’t just react to men around them.”

Maren Ade, also on the jury, added that the film world needed to reflect modern society, and Will Smith, who clearly had the time of his life this festival, reminded the press of how white the festival was, as well as declaring that he and fellow jury member Park Chan-wook were looking into forming a committee to help get under-represented film-makers into the festival. Cannes is infamous for its specific elitist preferences, and how that manifests in a glaring lack of African film-makers and black representation.

It’s up for speculation as to which films disturbed Chastain and the jury so much - sadly, by accounts from critics there, the choice was plentiful - but it’s incredibly heartening to see a prominent woman in Hollywood be so consistently outspoken on this issue as well as take action against it.

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Kayleigh is a features writer for Pajiba. You can follow her on Twitter or listen to her podcast, The Hollywood Read.