AWARDS INTELLIGENCER: Roll out the Red Carpet for Cannes – Thelma Adams reports

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With the Cannes Film Festival on the way May 14th – 25th, this year’s awards season will officially begin. Out of all those promising films on the slate from Oscar winner Emma Stone in her next collaboration with Yorgos Lanthimos, Kinds of Kindness, to Andrea Arnold’s Bird, a lot of movies that sound good on paper will be thrown against the wall to see if they stick.

In the past decade-plus, Cannes has become a battle ground in the fight for female representation. Melissa Silverstein of Women & Hollywood aggressively led the charge to include women directors. In 2012, she initiated a petition, which I signed, “We call for Cannes, and other film festivals worldwide to commit to transparency and equality in the selection process of these films. We judge films as human beings, shaped by our own perspectives and experiences. It is vital, therefore, that there be equality and diversity at the point of selection.”

We were calling out the gatekeepers, a call I amplified in the now defunct AMC in the spring of 2012. That year 22 movies competed for the Palme D’ Or. None were directed by women. At the time I wrote: “”I love David Cronenberg, whose Cosmopolis has been welcomed into the competition and who headed the Cannes jury in 1999. I was a champion of his cerebral period drama A Dangerous Method, which had a terrific star turn by Keira Knightley. But, really, not a single film by a woman? I’m just gob-smacked.”

That balance has changed in the past decade, largely to the continued advocacy of women like Silverstein who rallied colleagues in the industry, including high-profile movie stars with box office clout. While this year sees only four films in competition directed by women including Arnold, down from last year’s seven, there is reason to be hopeful that agitation succeeded. With Barbie director Greta Gerwig at the helm of the prestigious jury following the female-driven comedy’s monster $1.445 billion global gross, women in film have climbed on top.

Gerwig’s ascension represents a larger expansion of the gatekeepers. The rise of Stone from mainstream box office sweetheart to international Oscar-winning star collaborating with one-time outsider Lanthimos has also pushed the envelope.

A prime example of the slow yet unstoppable progress being made is last year’s Palme win by Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall. That thrilling domestic drama went on to earn a Best Picture Oscar nomination and a win for Best Original Screenplay. Triet’s success not only demonstrates progress at the festival but also bolsters the notion that the road to Oscars begins at Cannes.

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Thelma Adams

THELMA ADAMS is a prominent critic, bestselling author of The Last Woman Standing, Bittersweet Brooklyn and Playdate, co-producer of Feud: Bette and Joan, and an outspoken advocate for women’s voices in Hollywood. A two-time Chair of the New York Film Critics Circle, current film critic and contributor, her work spans essays, celebrity profiles and reviews for many of the industry's leading publications from the New York Times to Variety.