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Variety And UN Highlight Gender Equality At Cannes Film Festival

Claudia Eller (right) discusses gender equality wiht Aishwarya Rai Bachchan (center) and Christine Vachon (left)

Only four percent of the antagonists in all movies screened in 2014 were women. In these movies, you are two times more likely to see female nudity over male nudity. When women were featured, they were either a wife, a mother, a girlfriend or a princess. Only eleven percent of the movies made were written by women.

These statistics were brought to light during the Variety and UN Women special panel presented during the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. Supporting the “HeForShe” campaign, a coalition presenting a spotlight in gender equality within the film industry – that was initiated by UN Women, a UN organization dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women, Variety held a panel conversation moderated by Co-Editor-in-Chief Claudia Eller and attended by press and industry leaders.

Joining Eller on the panel was UN Senior Advisor Elizabeth Nyamayaro, who stated the way the “HeForShe” movement hoped to gain empathy was to encourage more female supporters in the industry. Rounding out the panel were actress/producers Salma Hayek, actress Parker Posey, actress Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and producers Christine Vachon and Elizabeth Karlson, who’s feature “Carol” earned critical praise and award recognition at this year’s festival. Eller led the discussion, encouraging the panelists to share what their experiences or education led them to believe the biggest problems were, and how these issues may be overcome.

Hayek discussed the movie studio’s expectation that women only wanted to see romantic comedies. When Karlson interjected that more than half the ticket sales were made by women in 2014, Hayek noted women are the ones buying family tickets. The percentage of ticket buys weren’t specific to movies they were seeing for their own enjoyment. She further emphasized the television industry’s willingness to adapt smarter content with strong interesting protagonists.

“(Television) understands the value women have,” said Hayek.

Vachon highlighted the success of indie “The Fault in Our Stars” as an example for a successful film the industry should take a hard look at.

“It had a female lead that was intelligent, not hysterical, and normal looking,” said Vachon. “The man was the one who was scared, the one who needed support.”

Highlighting a sex scene in the film where the “woman was on top, literally and figurative,” that was tastefully shot without gratuitous nudity, Vachon noted how scenes like this are highly empowering to women. She also noted the positive impact a film like “The Fault in Our Stars” has to male viewers who are exposed to a male character who is intelligent, emotional, and vulnerable.

“We are in a bloody time, and the entertainment that is put out is an indicator of that time we live in,” said Posey, who emphasized a great deal of content is based on flashing images, with little context. She described her career which was based on playing “friends” or involved in films where the characters had a genuine interest in one another. She noted many scripts don’t include such character studies.

“They are fast paced and are about image not nuance,” said Posey. “Movies today are being turning into video games.”

After Bachchen seconded Posey’s sentiment by stating most studios are looking for the next big franchise, Eller asked the panel about their thought on why calling a film “a romantic comedy” is considered “box office poison.” Posey indicated the sense of play, style and sharp wit of classic 40s and 50s films such as “Adam’s Rib” is a lost art form that would need to return in order for people to fully embrace “romantic comedies.”

“Movies of style have gone out of style,” said Posey.

Through the course of the hour long panel, the women discussed issues revolving around pay equality, top billing for actresses, and the difficulty actresses have at getting hired onto a project if the male lead has final approval over who’s cast. Eller wrapped the presentation by emphasizing only one major studio has a female head. Karlsen point out the top doesn’t always determine the outcome of a project. She provided an example of a sketch Tina Fey wrote during her time on “Saturday Night Live” that was constantly passed up by her male contemporaries who stated it “wasn’t funny.” Fey continued to push for the sketch, and eventually it aired, receiving the largest laughs that evening.

“She just had to keep pushing,” said Karlson.

To learn more about HeForShe, please visit: