Yesterday, Venice Film Festival director Alberto Barbera shrugged off the fact that only one of the 21 films screening in competition at the festival was made by a woman by pointing to actress Annette Bening. He seemed to indicate that her mere presence as the president of the jury somehow justified the lack of women represented overall, putting quite a bit of undue pressure on her in the process. Now, Bening herself has responded to the fracas, and well, let’s just say she has some...interesting advice.
Like Barbera, Bening emphasized that the festival wasn’t actively excluding female filmmakers from the process. “I was thrilled to be asked to be here, so I didn’t count the number of films that were accepted that were directed by women,” she said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “They watched 2,000 films, if you can imagine what that would be like. So no, I didn’t approach it that way.”
Um, I’m pretty sure no one thinks that the Venice jury watched all those films and specifically threw out the ones directed by women because they were directed by women. Once again—and again and again and again—there are a number of factors that contribute to the disparity, ranging from the sexism that denies women opportunities to make films in the first place to the general lack of trust women filmmakers constantly face.
Bening then proceeded to tell other women how to make films (emphasis mine):
“I think that we as women, we have to be very sharp and shrewd and creative ourselves about what we choose to make,” she said.
For Bening, the difficulty of making a movie is a universal problem, not just a female problem. “I know that most people that I know, whether they’re veterans or newcomers, or they’re men or women, most people struggle to get their movies made,” she said.
“And there is a lot of sexism, of course that exists. There’s no question. But I think things are changing,” she said. “The more that we, as women, can make films that speak to everyone, we can be regarded as filmmakers.”
OK, now I’m just confused. So women have to be creative, but then they have to make films that speak to everyone? Perhaps it’s sound strategy to be “shrewd” in navigating an industry that is so antagonistic to women, but putting the responsibility on women and saying “things are changing” is a huge misreading of the sexism. And are we really going back to this “relatability” nonsense with making films that speak to everyone when we exalt male “auteurs” for their unique vision? Since this is a world where, for example, just one woman of color in all of human history has ever been hired to direct a movie with a budget of over $100 million, maybe Bening should be asking the gatekeepers in Hollywood why they’re not letting more women near the “relatable” movies she is asking them to make.
I understand, that as the first female jury president since 2006, Bening probably doesn’t want to rock the boat, but if she’s using her position of power to maintain the status quo then what’s the point? The answer to sexism is not to police the way women express themselves in hopes that they can make their art more appealing to an institution that has no interest in supporting them anyway.