Jessica Chastain at Cannes ’17: Portrayal of Women is “Disturbing”

By 31 May 2017Listen
Jessica Chastain has criticised the portrayal of women in cinema, saying that the way female characters were depicted in the films she saw at the Cannes film festival was “disturbing”.

Originally posted in The Guardian by Gwilym Mumford – Tuesday 30 May 2017

The actor made her comments at the closing press conference for this year’s festival jury, of which she was a member.

“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,” she said. “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,” she added.

Cannes has long been criticised for its treatment of female film-makers. Only one woman director, Jane Campion, has won the Palme d’Or in the festival’s 70-year history, a statistic Campion herself recently described as “insane”. However, this year’s festival did recognise two women film-makers, with Lynne Ramsay winning best screenplay for her crime thriller You Were Never Really Here, and Sofia Coppola taking home best director for The Beguiled. Coppola’s win makes her only the second woman to win the award at the festival, after Yuliya Solntseva in 1961.

This isn’t the first time Chastain has spoken out about gender imbalance in the film industry. In an interview with the Guardian earlier this year, the actor complained about the lack of female reviewers working in film.

“Critics are the ones who suggest to an audience what stories are valuable or worthwhile,” she said. “When you have 90% of film critics as male, and perhaps not able to review a film from a gender-neutral point of view, we need to understand that we need more female critics to let women and men know that stories about women are just as interesting as stories about men.”

Chastain wasn’t the only jury member to criticise the make-up of this year’s Cannes selection. Actor Will Smith noted the absence of people of colour in the official selection. “A couple of black folks won’t hurt things next year,” he said.

The Palme d’Or was won this year by The Square, a satire of the art world by Swedish director Ruben Östlund, while Aids awareness drama 120 Beats Per Minute won the Grand Prix.