Five years after fashion powerhouse Kering launched its initiative to highlight the role of women before and behind the camera, the mission of Women in Motion is as pressing as ever. While the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have put a spotlight on the struggles of women in the film industry, the battle for gender parity is far from over.
The numbers still indicate that women are underrepresented both on screen and behind the scenes. Yet how the marginalization of women is addressed has changed drastically in just half a decade. In 2015, when Kering premiered its talks at the Cannes Film Festival, frank conversations about gender inequality were hardly de rigueur.
“I’m proud of the awareness it brought to the topic, even at a time when very few thought it was something that should be acted upon,” says Kering CEO Francois-Henri Pinault. “And I’m impressed by all the people who raised their voices and took a stand.”
Pinault has long been a passionate advocate for gender equality within his company, as well as through the Kering Foundation, which aims to combat violence against women.
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“In 2015, we felt it was time to further this commitment,” he says, choosing cinema, “because it is one of the most powerful drivers for change, and also an industry where equality is a burning question.”
With more than 70 high-profile participants expressing their views on the problem and sharing their solutions since its inception, Women in Motion has become a platform for advancing equality. That, says Pinault, is why Kering is pursuing the initiative long-term, committing to another five years of partnership with the Cannes Film Festival and expanding its program to include arts and culture.
The Women in Motion Award, given at the festival at a gala dinner, is another way to raise awareness of issues facing women in the entertainment industry. This year’s recipient is iconic actress Gong Li. Previous honorees are Jane Fonda (2015), Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon (2016), Isabelle Huppert (2017) and Patty Jenkins (2018).
In 2017, Women in Motion joined forces with film promotion organization UniFrance, helping expand the footprint of its work by hosting worldwide events. That same year, the #MeToo movement would not just bring an urgency to the topic, but a colossal increase in awareness.
“There is really a before and after,” says UniFrance managing director Isabelle Giordano. “I would say that [before], people were not conscious of the real problem; of the pressure that may exist between a certain kind of man and women in the profession. There was an untold story.” Today, she says, “people talk about their experience, in France, as well as the U.S. There is no more shame in it.”
Raising awareness may not be the only measure necessary to create change, but Giordano thinks cognizance goes a long way.
“We recently organized a panel of women working in special effects and the technical departments of the cinema industry, and people really discovered the talents of those women,” she says. “Sometimes, I think that people don’t know that there are a lot of women in the industry. We have to shine the light on their talent.”
One of the ways Women in Motion supports female filmmakers is with the Young Talents Award. For last year’s winner, Catalan director Carla Simón, who gained traction with her debut “Summer 1993,” the €50,000 ($56,000) grant combined with international recognition has had a great impact on her second feature, which will start production in summer 2020.
“We had meetings in Cannes that I never thought I would have, with people that I really admire,” she says. “I think that was because of the attention we got with the award. It opened doors for possible collaborations, for the next film.”
To follow in her footsteps as the next Young Talents recipient, Simón has chosen 36-year-old German director Eva Trobisch, who also won the Young Talent Award at the 2018 Locarno Film Festival with her graduation film “Alles Is Gut” (All Is Good).
“I saw her film and it touched me so deeply,” says Simón. “I found that it was done in a very, very intelligent and clever way. I finished the film, and I wanted to see more from this woman.”
Palestinian director Maysaloun Hamoud, who is in pre-production for a TV series that starts shooting this fall, has said she received the award in 2017 as she struggled to find work as a director, despite achieving critical success with the film “In Between,” a portrait of the Arab Israeli society living in Tel Aviv.
The award also produced a career boost for its four other recipients, among them Syrian director Gaya Jiji, who, since receiving the award alongside Iranian director Ida Panahandeh and Franco-Tunisian director Leyla Bouzid in 2016, returned to Cannes with “My Favorite Fabric,” which unspooled in Un Certain Regard in 2018.
While Simón is optimistic about the opportunities presented to her and her female colleagues, she is also concerned that the encouragement of female filmmaking might just be a trend.
“We can’t feel too comfortable,” she says. “We still need to keep fighting.”
This year, Women in Motion is launching a partnership with Stacy L. Smith, founder and director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at USC, which includes a roundtable at Cannes on equality and inclusion in the cinema industry. The themes and scope of the partnership will be developed in the coming months.
WIM is also launching a podcast, with the first five episodes featuring highlights of the last five years’ talks at Cannes.
As Women in Motion celebrates its fifth anniversary, Pinault feels encouraged by the progress toward — if not gender parity — a change in attitudes, but remains reluctant to lean too much into its success.
“Since the #MeToo movement, and thanks to all the work done by active groups such as Time’s Up and 50/50 by 2020, the mindset is gradually changing, and steps are being taken,” he says. “But as I’ve said in the past, we must never let our attention fade. First, because equality is still to be achieved — and there is quite some way to go. And second, because where progress is made, there is also inevitably push back — and we simply can’t afford going backwards.”