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Cannes: EU Commission Launches Analysis of Gender Disparity Among Film Critics

Rebecca Davis

The EU Commission revealed new data on progress since last year’s 50/50 gender parity pledge, launched a report on best practices and announced a new initiative to gather Europe-wide data on the gender breakdown of film critics by the end of the year at its first “Women on the Move” day on the Croisette on Sunday.

In the year since the Cannes Film Festival kicked off its 50/50 pledge, progress has been made globally but there’s still more to be done, representatives from festivals, advocacy groups and the commission said at a press event.

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Worldwide, 47 festivals have signed the pledge so far, the French collective 50/50 said. The vast majority — 74% of them — are in Europe, notably in France, where 10 are on board; in Ireland, which has seven; and in Italy and Switzerland, which both have four. Nine are in North America and none in Asia. Among the signatory festivals, 38% of them have female artistic directors, 56% of them have women on their selection committees and 42% of them have women on their board.

“The truth is, film schools have had parity for a long time, with 50% women trying to become directors. So they exist; it’s just that at some point we lose them and we don’t understand where and when. We have to make sure that they’re not lost,” said Delphyne Besse, co-founder of the collective.

While a broader report on the EU-wide situation has yet to be completed, new data was also unveiled Sunday about gender discrepancies among film critics in France. It found that though 47% of all registered French journalists are women, just 37% of the 611 journalists who wrote a film review in the past year were female. Women were also found to be writing reviews less frequently than men. One third of female critics wrote a single review last year, versus only a quarter of male reviewers who did the same.

When they were writing, it was primarily for general interest or women’s magazines rather than publications specialized in cinema or culture, the report found. Men were significantly more likely to review thrillers, documentaries and action films. Female critics were more likely to give slightly higher scores than their male counterparts.

In a panel discussion with film festival directors, many mentioned boosting diversity among critics as a key issue. “You do see personal bias coming into what journalists are deciding to cover and champion, particularly around discovery, finding new voices. The more diverse critical ecosystem we have, the more diverse that conversation’s going to be,” said Tricia Tuttle, artistic director of the London BFI Festival.

Yet it remains a challenge to bring women’s work to festivals without quotas that would make women feel victims of tokenism, she added. “I think everyone is doing their best to reach the goal [of parity], but it is hard when you have just 30, 35% of submissions from women to get to 50-50. We have to address the pipeline.”

Initiatives like the parity pledge help keep the conversation going, said IDFA’s artistic director, Orwa Nyraba. “You might say that we can [fight for parity] without having to sign, but signing is a way to be part of a movement instead of just doing it, which is of course the ultimate objective. It’s a statement that we are part of an international wave trying to think together on this.”

His own team had signed within hours of being asked. “Getting to 50-50 is a serious day-to-day commitment,” Nyraba said. “Someone on the team needs to be really awake to keep tracking it. Otherwise, everything falls back to a default mode well-established over decades.”

Besse described how convincing Cannes to sign had been a years-long process despite regular meetings with organizers, including Thierry Fremaux, who in 2012 was still “very much in denial about the issue, because ‘Oh festivals are at the end of the chain, so that’s not my problem, bye bye,’” she said. “It was a slow process for him to understand, but in time he realized that the issue was much more complex than that, and that he could be a leader in bringing some change. I don’t think Thierry Fremaux wakes up in the morning and thinks about gender equality, but at least it’s somewhere on his mind, and that makes a big difference.”

She remains optimistic for the future, saying: “Once you realize there’s a systemic change to be made, when you truly understand the issue, it’s an eye-opener and you can’t move without thinking about it. There’s an energy it gives you that becomes contagious.”

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