Photography via OLIVIER MORIN/AFP/Getty

These Women Made a Powerful Statement on the Cannes Red Carpet

"We demand that our workplaces are diverse and equitable so that they can best reflect the world in which we actually live."

The Cannes red carpet, more than any other film festival, is famous for jaw-dropping, over-the-top style statements. But this past weekend, it served as the site for a different kind of statement altogether. On Saturday, Cate Blanchett, Cannes jury president, and 81 other powerful women from the film industry—including Agnes Varda, Ava DuVernay, Marion Cotillard and Kristen Stewart—joined forces for a powerful moment on the steps of the Palais des Festivals.

And what’s the significance of that specific number? 82 represents the number of women whose films have premiered in competition at Cannes since the beginning of the festival. To put that into perspective: “In the same period, 1688 male directors have climbed these very same stairs,” noted Blanchett in her speech, the French version of which was read out by 89-year-old filmmaker Agnes Varda, a pioneer of the French New Wave cinematic movement.

According to Refinery29, “This year, only three of the 21 movies in the Competition category are directed by women — an improvement from the 2005, 2010, and 2012 festivals, when no women were included in the Competition category at all.” (By contrast, women-helmed films at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival formed an impressive 46% of the total films screened.)

In Cannes’ history, only two women have won the festival’s coveted Palme d’Or award—Jane Campion in 1993 and Agnes Varda (albeit an honorary one) in 2015. When asked last year by Vulture about being the only woman awarded that prize for a film, even over two decades later, she exclaimed, “Too long! Twenty-four years! And before that, there was no one. It’s insane.”

But 2018 is nothing if not the year of pushing back against the stark inequities and power imbalances we’ve accepted for so long.

“We expect our institutions to actively provide parity and transparency in their executive bodies and provide safe environments in which to work,” Blanchett read from the statement. “We expect our governments to make sure that the laws of equal pay for equal work are upheld. We demand that our workplaces are diverse and equitable so that they can best reflect the world in which we actually live. A world that allows all of us in front and behind the camera, all of us, to thrive shoulder to shoulder with our male colleagues.”

“The stairs of our industry must be accessible to all. Let’s climb.” With that, Varda closed the speech and just two days later came the immediate impact of their call for change.

Earlier today, the directors of three important sections (akin to categories) at Cannes—Edouard Waintrop, Charles Tesson and Thierry Frémaux — signed the “Programming Pledge for Parity and Inclusion in Cinema Festivals.” According to Vox, the pledge was drafted by the French organization 5050×2020, which also organized Saturday’s red carpet protest, and its commitments are aimed at “creating a more transparent selection process at festivals that will reveal members of selection and programming committees, a record of filmmakers’ and key crew’s gender in submissions, and a movement toward parity on executive boards.”

“Without Thierry Frémaux saying yes to the pledge, without saying yes to the stairs, we wouldn’t be here,” said Blanchett at the pledge-signing event. “If he’s part of the problem, he is part of the solution as well.”