CANNES, France – Call it the world’s most glamorous political rally.
The issue of women’s rights temporarily pushed film deals off the table at the dinner celebrating luxury and sports and lifestyle group Kering’s partnership with the Cannes Film Festival through its Women in Motion program, which honored Jane Fonda and producer Megan Ellison and paid tribute to Olivia de Havilland.
Guests including Joel and Ethan Coen, Jake Gyllenhaal, Sophie Marceau, Rossy de Palma, Benicio del Toro, Isabelle Huppert, Frances McDormand, Claudia Cardinale and Li Bingbing joined Kering chairman and chief executive officer François-Henri Pinault and his wife Salma Hayek for the festival’s presidential dinner, held on a hillside in front of a picturesque medieval church.
Everyone had an opinion on the hot-button issue of women’s equality, with Fonda leading the charge. She noted that the American Civil Liberties Union has called for an investigation into the film industry’s failure to hire female directors, and the actress herself is campaigning for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.
“You know, 73 percent of Americans think we’ve passed it, but we haven’t. We scold Iraq and Iran and Afghanistan for how they treat women, but we don’t even have an Equal Rights Amendment,” she said.
Fonda is also campaigning to create more entertainment content for older women, such as her Netflix series “Grace and Frankie,” co-starring Lily Tomlin, which premiered earlier this month.
“Already I’m getting feedback from women who say, ‘We’ve never seen this on television.’ You know, older women portrayed this way, in a central role, not the brunt of a joke or kind of in the background, but central,” she said.
Marceau was confident the movement would not be a flash-in-the-pan. “There is still a lot of work to be done, but women are intelligent and I think they have what it takes to succeed. They are also gentle, so they will get there gently. But the gentle shall inherit the earth, you know,” she said with a smile.
De Palma advocated a more aggressive approach. “I always say, you don’t ask for your rights – you take them,” she said. “I think Kering has captured the zeitgeist. It has picked up on something that everyone is feeling. Now we have to ensure that parity extends to salary levels as well.”
Exiled Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani, fresh off filming “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” said the conversation was long overdue. “It makes me feel very hopeful,” she enthused.
Pinault explained that the five-year partnership between Kering and the film festival was both commercial, benefiting luxury brands such as Gucci, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga and Alexander McQueen, and philanthropic, in line with the Kering Foundation’s ongoing efforts to fight violence against women.
“Since it turns out that unfortunately, cinema is an industry where the role of women is absolutely not what it should be, we thought the issue was perfectly suited for a partnership that extends beyond business,” he said. “We have signed on for five years, so we’ll be back as long as it’s not fixed. We will dig in our heels.”
In his speech later that evening, the executive reeled off statistics.
“Cinema tells stories of humanity, and you know what, last time I checked, half of humanity was female, so why did less than a quarter of the top-grossing films of 2014 have a female producer? Why did only 12 percent of them have a woman at the center of the story? And why were only 7 percent of them directed by women?” Pinault asked.
Pierre Lescure, the festival’s new president, also acknowledged the film industry was flawed.
“We cannot deny the blatant realities nor the resistant clichés. Numerous recent missions and reports have highlighted the discrimination in the film industry and the lack of representation of women in the film and audiovisual industries. Unequal salaries, unequal access to certain jobs within film, dangerous stereotypes – the list is long,” he said.
It wasn’t all about politics.
Earlier in the evening, Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele and Gucci ceo Marco Bizzarri attended the screening of the restored version of Luchino Visconti’s “Rocco and his Brothers” in the presence of original cast member Cardinale, as part of the brand’s ongoing partnership with Martin Scorsese’s The Film Foundation.
Michele, who dressed Marceau, Charlotte Casiraghi and Korean actress Gianna Jun for the Kering dinner, said it was his first time at the festival.
“Fashion is sometimes a little bit for some people that really love it, and movies are for everybody. There is something really inspiring,” he said. “I had never seen ‘Rocco and his Brothers,’ but the image is really stunning, so strong and modern – really beautiful.”