Actress Jessica Chastain found the depiction of women in the films she screened at this year’s prestigious Cannes Film Festival to be “quite disturbing.”
“This is the first time I’ve watched 20 films in 10 days. … And the one thing I really took away from this experience is how the world views women, from the female characters that I saw represented,” the Cannes jury member said during a press conference. “And it was quite disturbing to me to be honest.”
Chastain was quick to point out that there were some exceptions to what she saw. One of those is likely Sofia Coppola, who made history as the second woman ever to win Best Director in Cannes’ 70-year history for her work on The Beguiled, a remake of the 1971 Southern gothic drama starring Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, Oona Laurence, Angourie Rice, and Colin Farrell.
“But for the most part, I was surprised with the representation of female characters onscreen in these films,” Chastain said. She added that the inclusion of more female storytellers would lead to more authentic female characters in cinema — characters, she said, that are “proactive, have their own agencies, don’t just react to the men around them, [and] they have their own point of view.”
Fellow jury member Will Smith astutely added, “A couple of black folks won’t hurt there either. We’ll talk about that in another time.”
This isn’t the first instance of Chastain criticizing the film industry over its portrayal of women. She’s long been an advocate for women in Hollywood, recently telling Variety that the problem goes far beyond the lack of female-driven films. “We also need to recognize more women go to the movie theaters than men,” she said. “More women play video games than men. There’s a huge audience out there that wants stories about women.”
And when it comes to the industry’s gender-wage gap, Chastain has said, “I’m not taking jobs anymore where I’m getting paid a quarter of what the male costar is being paid.”
The dearth of female directors in Hollywood is not a new phenomenon. In 2015, the ACLU filed to launch civil rights investigations into the lack of female directors in film and television, citing abysmal statistics: Only 1.9 percent of the 100 highest-grossing films of 2014 were directed by women. And those numbers aren’t getting any better.
With Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman on the horizon, one hopes a certain Amazon warrior princess can shatter Hollywood’s glass ceiling and prove just how vital female storytellers are to the success of the industry at large.