Cannes Kicks Off With France’s Film Industry Engulfed in Belated #MeToo Reckoning: ‘It Took Much Longer’

Cannes Kicks Off With France’s Film Industry Engulfed in Belated #MeToo Reckoning: ‘It Took Much Longer’

As the Cannes Film Festival kicked off its 77th edition on Tuesday, France’s film business has become engulfed in a reckoning over sexual harassment and abuse that activists say is long overdue. The #MeToo movement is hitting the country roughly seven years after it took Hollywood by storm — as the wave of allegations against Harvey Weinstein, long a fixture at Cannes, inspired women across the industry to speak out against executives, artists and movie stars who abused their positions of power.

“For reasons I can’t explain, it took much longer in France than in the U.S. for women to dare to speak out, and maybe it also took longer for women to be heard,” Iris Knobloch, president of the Cannes Film Festival, said in an interview with Variety. “I think that for many societal evolutions, Europe is still a little behind the United States. We’re catching up a little later, and it’s not even just a French issue.”

To be clear, in recent years, other French entertainment industry figures have faced sexual misconduct accusations, and there have been intermittent moments where the movement appeared to be gathering force, for instance, in 2019 when actor Adele Haenel spoke out against sexual assault and abuse in the biz, and when the Cesar Awards went through a complete overhaul. But the scale and intensity of the current wave of allegations is unlike that the country has experience before.

But Cannes itself has sometimes struggled to keep pace with where society was headed, failing to strike the right tone when it comes to welcoming problematic performers and filmmakers. Last year, for instance, the festival opened with “Jeanne du Barry,” a historical epic starring Johnny Depp, despite the fact that he was accused of abuse by ex-wife Amber Heard. Depp denies the charges and won a defamation trial against Heard, but the decision to highlight one of the actor’s films in such a prominent spot sparked protests. This time, Cannes is taking pains to avoid similar controversies, with festival director Thierry Frémaux telling reporters in a Monday press conference that the festival wanted to host an edition “without polemics.” Instead, Frémaux said he wanted to keep the focus on the films.

It’s an understandable objective, but one that might be impossible to pull off. After all, one French figure after another has been hit with allegations of impropriety. France’s Time’s Up era began in December when a video of Gerard Depardieu making crude and misogynistic jokes while on a trip to North Korea aired as part of a TV documentary. Two months later, “Ridicule” actress Judith Godreche filed complaints against directors Benoit Jacquot and Jacques Doillon, alleging sexual assault. Godreche’s short film “Moi Aussi” will kick off Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section. And the president of the National Film Board, Dominique Boutonnat, who has been accused of sexual assault charges by his godson, has been slammed by two investigative stories in French newspaper Liberation, and faces a criminal trial next month. A subsequent petition to remove him from office has garnered 2,704 signatures in just two days.

At one point, it seemed as though the festival itself might serve as a stage for the next wave of bombshell allegations to drop. In recent weeks, rumors started to swirl that the French outlet Mediapart was putting together an explosive report that it planned to publish during Cannes in which it would share accusations of abuse concerning several prominent film industry figures. But it seems like those rumors were unfounded. “For the last several days, certain [media outlets], including serious ones, suggested the existence of supposed ‘list’ of presumed authors of sexual violence which Mediapart was about to publish,” the news organization wrote on Monday. “It’s false, obviously. On the eve of the Cannes Film Festival, the media spectacle is pathetic.”

France’s #MeToo moment arrives as the social justice push seems to be facing new obstacles in the U.S., where the movement originated. In April, the Supreme Court of New York overturned Weinstein’s rape conviction, ruling that the judge in the case unfairly allowed women whose allegations were not part of the case to testify on behalf of the prosecution. Weinstein remains in jail because he was separately convicted in Los Angeles, and a New York retrial seems likely. But the decision has been seen as a setback and a reminder of the legal hurdles that need to be overcome for accusers seeking justice through the court system.

But at a press conference on Tuesday, hours before Cannes’ opening night ceremony, Greta Gerwig, the “Barbie” director who is serving as jury president, made it clear that despite the recent setbacks, the #MeToo movement has led to meaningful reforms.

“I have seen substantive change in the American film community,” Gerwig said. “It’s only moving everything in the correct direction.” 

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