As a member of the the Cannes Film Festival jury, Jessica Chastain just watched 20 films in 10 days. Which led the actress to conclude, at the festival's closing ceremony this past weekend, "The one thing I really took away from this experience is how the world views women, from the female characters that I saw represented, and it was quite disturbing to me, to be honest."
Although the jury, which was led by Pedro Almodóvar, made Sofia Coppola the second women ever in Cannes's 70-year history to win Best Director award for The Beguiled—a film with an unapologetically objectifying female gaze—the experience did not leave Chastain feeling more empowered.
"There are some exceptions, I will say, but for the most part I was surprised with the representation of female characters on-screen in these films," Chastain continued during the jury panel, to Almodóvar's audible agreement. "And I do hope that when we include more female storytellers, we will have more of the women that I recognize in our day-to-day life—ones that are proactive, [that] have their own agency, [that] don't just react to the men around them. They have their own point of view."
Chastain may have been disappointed by films like Jacques Doillon’s Rodin, a biopic of August Rodin that depicts the sculptor as, according to the New York Times, "a male genius who uses and abuses women, some with very contemporary-looking bikini waxing"—a set-up that also "makes a fitting film-industry allegory."
And while Chastain spoke out by the time many of the festivalgoers had already left, her call for more authentic female characters and storytellers has resonated: Since the director Ava Duvernay posted a clip of her speech, it's been favorited over 50,000 times on Twitter.
Chastain has a history of speaking out on sexism in Hollywood, but she's not unrealistic about the impact of her words. "I just don’t know why it’s not changing," she told American Way in March. "I’m doing my part to make the change, so why isn’t everyone else?"
She recently attempted to take matters into her own hands by launching her production company, Freckle Films, last year, but Chastain is still, like most actresses, dependent on the productions of male producers and directors, like the one who once told her she talked too much about "all this 'women stuff.'" And sometimes, she's actually the only woman on set—an experience she told Porter can make her "feel like a sexual object."
That's not to say years of discrimination haven't taught Chastain a few ways to beat the system. It may have taken two Academy Award nominations to get her comfortable to do it, but Chastain now has one simple trick for dealing with unequal pay: Instead of finding out later she's being paid millions less than her male costars, now she just asks how much they're making up front.
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