At a time when the global film industry is struggling with widespread claims of sexual harassment and assault, the Cannes Film Festival could be poised to face the issue head on. Cate Blanchett, a prominent voice in the #MeToo movement and one of almost 400 influential women from the entertainment business to launch the Time’s Up initiative, has been appointed President of the Jury for the 71st edition, which will take place between 8th and 19th May.
The Australian actress and two-time Academy Award winner – among many other accolades – will be the twelfth woman to take on the role.She joins a prestigious list of female presidents that includes Gone with the Wind’s Olivia de Havilland (1965), Sophia Loren (1966), Ingrid Bergman of Casablanca (1973), Jeanne Moreau (1995), Isabelle Huppert (2009) and, most recently, New Zealand’s Jane Campion in 2014, who is the only woman to ever win the prestigious Palme d'Or (for The Piano in 1993).
At 48, Blanchett’s acting career spans nearly three decades and an exceptionally diverse range of genres and roles. After several stage performances and film appearances, her first high-profile, international part was as Queen Elizabeth I in Shekhar Kapur’s 1998 film Elizabeth. She would later reprise the role in the sequel Elizabeth: The Golden Age in 2007 and become the only actress to receive Academy Award nominations for portraying the same character in two films. In another piece of Silver Screen trivia, in 2004, she won her first Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator, in which she played Katharine Hepburn. It was the first time that an actress won an Academy Award for depicting another Oscar-winning actress. Her second Academy Award came in 2014 for Best Actress for her role in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. She has worked with an astounding array of top quality directors – Peter Jackson, David Fincher, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Wes Anderson, Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott and Sally Potter to name just a few – and is credited in 69 productions (according to IMDB), many among them some of the most critically acclaimed English-language productions of the last quarter century.
“I have been to Cannes in many guises over the years as an actress, producer, in the marketplace, the Gala-sphere and in Competition,” said Blanchett as her jury presidency was announced, “but never solely for the sheer pleasure of watching the cornucopia of films this great festival harbours. I am humbled by the privilege and responsibility of presiding over this year's jury. This festival plays a pivotal role in bringing the world together to celebrate story; that strange and vital endeavour that all peoples share, understand and crave.”
In a joint statement, festival president Pierre Lescure and general delegate Thierry Frémaux disclosed, “We are delighted to welcome such a rare and unique artist whose talent and convictions enrich both screen and stage. Our conversations [from autumn 2017] tell us she will be a committed President, a passionate woman and a big-hearted spectator.”
Tall, blonde and beautiful, Blanchett is an undoubtedly attractive woman, but she is certainly more than just that. Alongside her considerable cinematic achievements and numerous philanthropic activities, such as her role as Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, she has also been a long-time champion of women and women’s rights in the film industry and in the wider world. As news of sexual abuse allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein broke in the October of last year, Blanchett released a statement saying, “Any man in a position of power or authority who thinks it is his prerogative to threaten, intimidate or sexually assault any woman he encounters or works alongside needs to be called to account. It is never easy for a woman to come forward in such situations and I wholeheartedly support those who have.” Since then, she has joined with hundreds of other leading women in the film and entertainment industries to launch the Time’s Up movement, which describes itself as ‘a unified call for change from women in entertainment for women everywhere’. In addition to its efforts to wipe out abuse, the group has established a Legal Defense Fund to support victims with legal and public relations costs as they pursue legal action against their abusers.
I have been to Cannes in many guises over the years as an actress, producer, in the marketplace, the Gala-sphere and in Competition, but never solely for the sheer pleasure of watching the cornucopia of films this great festival harbours. I am humbled by the privilege and responsibility of presiding over this year's jury. This festival plays a pivotal role in bringing the world together to celebrate story; that strange and vital endeavour that all peoples share, understand and crave.
In late 2017, Lescure, who has been president of the event since 2014, hinted that Cannes would be addressing the topic: “Following the 70th anniversary edition, the festival is beginning a new period in its history. We intend to renew the principles of our organisation as much as possible, while continuing to question the cinema of our age and to be present through its upheavals.” After numerous film personalities dressed in black for the Golden Globes in January (which was resurrected for the British BAFTAs in February), how exactly the Festival de Film will tackle the scandal remains to be seen in May. While Vanity Fair journalist Yohana Desta noted that ‘any high-profile ceremony that fails to acknowledge it will likely face heavy criticism’, supporters of the Cannes Film Festival can be relatively confident that, with a President of the Jury as proud and outspoken as Blanchett, it will not disappoint.