Actress and producer Jessica Chastain was initially thrilled to be one of nine feature film jury panelists for the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. However, after watching all the films in competition and casting her vote for some of the festival's most prestigious awards, she had some troubling things to say about the women she saw represented.
Here are the highlights from her statement at the festival's closing press conference.
This is the first time I’ve watched 20 films in 10 days, and I love movies. And the one thing I really took away from this experience is how the world views women from the female characters that I saw represented. It was quite disturbing to me, to be honest. There are some exceptions, I will say, but for the most part, I was surprised with the representation of female characters onscreen in these films. I do hope that when we include more female storytellers, we will have more of the women that I recognize in my day-to-day life. Ones that are proactive, have their own agencies, don’t just react to the men around them. They have their own point of view.
Her comments came on the heels of Sofia Coppola receiving the best director prize — the first female director to do so since 1961. Needless to say, while it might have been somewhat jarring for audiences to hear, it was incredibly relevant.
The types of female characters represented at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival often fell into the more stereotypically passive female box. Many of them were reacting to situations, especially those involving men, rather than helming their own courses of action. This may have had something to do with the lack of female storytellers' work included in this year's festival, but it may also simply be a product of deeply ingrained gender stereotyping that continues to plague the entertainment industry as a whole.
Thankfully, however, there are celebrities like Chastain who have made it their prerogative to point out gender inequality as a way of fighting it. In March, the Zero Dark Thirty star took to Twitter to defend women's health in America against the politicians in power and the sexist trolls who attempted to negate her.
And, of course, she participated in the Women's March on Washington along with a host of other feminist-minded celebrities.
'Women’s Rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are Women’s Rights. We must create a society in which women - including Black women, Native women, poor women, immigrant women, disabled women, Muslim women, lesbian queer and trans women - are free and able to care for and nurture their families, however they are formed, in safe and healthy environments free from structural impediments.' - @womensmarch Regram @vanityfair by @derekblasberg #nastywomenmakehistory
Chastain has also taken a very public stand against the gender pay gap in Hollywood — as well as everywhere else in America.
"I'm not taking jobs anymore where I’m getting paid a quarter of what the male costar is being paid," Chastain told Variety in April. In fact, she now insists on knowing the salaries of her male costars before agreeing to her own.
The more we see female public figures speaking up about gender disparity, like the kind Chastain noticed at Cannes, the harder it will be for outdated stereotypes to remain strongholds in the media world and beyond.