“For a long time they thought the only thing we were interested in seeing were romantic comedies,” said Hayek, who appears in the Cannes drama “Tale of Tales.” “They don’t see us as a powerful economic force, which is an incredible ignorance.”
Joining the conversation about gender inequality in Hollywood were actresses Parker Posey (“Irrational Man”) and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan (“Jazbaa”), as well as producers Christine Vachon and Elizabeth Karlsen (who both worked on “Carol”). The event was co-hosted by the U.N. Women’s HeForShe campaign, and moderated by Variety co-editor-in-chief Claudia Eller and U.N. Women head Elizabeth Nyamayaro. Variety publisher Michelle Sobrino welcomed the crowd at the Radisson Blu hotel.
Despite the success of films like “The Hunger Games,” “Frozen” and “The Fault in Our Stars,” women directed only 17 of the 250 top-grossing films of last year, and there seem to be fewer A-list leading ladies who are paid as much as their male counterparts. “The only kind of movie where women make more than men is the porno industry,” Hayek said. “It’s simple ignorance.”
Bachchan said that even in international markets, a women starring in a movie is considered a niche product. “It’s pretty much the same everywhere across the globe,” Bachchan said. “We keep coming back to reiterating preconceived ideas.”
Posey talked about how she loved to watch Turner Classic Movies from the ’40s, where the female characters were witty and three-dimensional. “It’s so rare that I see that in movies now,” Posey said. She added: “We’re in very masculine times. We’re at war. The culture is eating nature, it’s overpowering storytelling.”
Hayek said that she’s lost out on jobs because A-list actors have approval over her casting, whereas top actresses in Hollywood don’t get similar deals. She noted how studio executives suffer from amnesia when it comes to female-driven hits. “They don’t know what we want to see,” Hayek said. “When women don’t direct and women don’t write and tell our own stories, we stopped going to the movies and started watching them on television.”
Vachon acknowledged that there are certainly more powerful roles for women on the smallscreen. “I think to some degree it is because television, at least in the United States, has become a place where riskier stories are told, more character-driven stories are told and often those are female-driven,” she said.
Karlsen noted the amount of pressure to succeed for “Carol,” a lesbian 1950s love story directed by Todd Haynes and starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, which premieres at Cannes on Sunday night. “Certainly there’s a huge question mark,” Karlsen said. “It’s female-led. It’s a lesbian romance. There’s a huge wave of expectation.”
Hayek said that women in Hollywood can’t continue to allow themselves to be sidelined. “Look, we cannot stand as victims and say they are not looking at us,” she said. But she noted that Hollywood does care about money, and women — who make up 50 percent of tickets sold — need to continue to exercise their strength in numbers.
“What gives me hopes is that we are in a position of power,” Hayek said. “And I am so grateful to gay men. If it wasn’t for Tennessee Williams and Pedro Almodovar, it would be even worse.”