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Saudi Arabia’s First Female Director Takes Part In Historic Protest At Cannes

A group of 82 women stood in silence to highlight the lack of female directors at the world-renowned Cannes Film Festival, amongst them Saudi Arabia’s celebrated director Haifaa Al Mansour who was behind 2012’s widely acclaimed Wadjda. The 43-year-old director walked up to the steps arm in arm with actress Kristen Stewart and Danish producer Marianne Slot, along with director Ava DuVernay and Australian actress Cate Blanchett. The group also featured stars such as Salma Hayek, Jane Fonda, Marion Cotillard, and Patty Jenkins.

As pointed out by online portal Emirates Woman, the festival is currently celebrating its 71st edition in the south of France. However, in its long and established history, it has only officially selected works by 82 female directors in comparison to the numerous movies by 1,688 male directors that have made the cut in those years.

The group of women walked in silence along the red carpet at Cannes before stopping halfway up the steps of the entrance to the Palais des Festivals, the conference center that hosts the events. According to The Guardian, the gesture was intended to signify the difficulties for women “to climb the social and professional ladder.” Blanchett and director Agnès Varda gave a statement, explaining the intent behind the demonstration, as reported by Vanity Fair.

“We are 82 women,” Blanchett said in her statement, "representing the number of female directors who have climbed these stairs since the first edition of the Cannes film festival in 1946. In the same period, 1,688 male directors have climbed these very same stairs." Cate also noted that 71 male directors have received the "prestigious" Palme d'Or (the highest prize awarded at the Cannes Film Festival), while only two female directors have been given the notable award.

“As women, we all face our own unique challenges, but we stand together on these stairs today as a symbol of our determination and commitment to progress. […] We are writers, producers, directors, actresses, cinematographers, talent agents, editors, distributors, sales agents and all involved in the cinematic arts.”

The protest was held ahead of the premiere of French director Eva Husson’s Girls of the Sun, which is one of 21 films up for the prestigious Palme d’Or this year. Capernaum by Lebanese director Nadine Labaki and Happy as Lazzaro by Italy’s Alice Rohrwache are the other two works by female filmmakers up for the prize in 2018.

In addition to this protest, the Cannes Film Festival saw another group standing up and speaking out against the killing of protesters in Gaza. Palestinian filmmaker Annemarie Jacir led a rally at the festival to show solidarity with the 60 people killed in the Gaza protests on the same day as the opening of the United States embassy in Jerusalem. Joining Jacir on the ‘Stand In Solidarity’ at the Palestinian Pavilion were her fellow Un Certain Regard jury members, Hollywood actor Benicio Del Toro, Russian director Kantemir Balagov, French actress Virginie Ledoyan, and Telluride Film Festival artistic director Julie Huntsinger.

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