This year, Cannes’ official theme is “the year of women,” perhaps to make up for the embarrassing number of female directors – two – that it featured in its lineup in 2014. On Saturday, actresses Salma Hayek, Parker Posey, and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan participated in a panel at the festival on women in film. Hayek, in particular, was outspoken, saying that producers “think the only value we bring to a movie is as an object.” Apparently, despite its theme and the panel (which was hosted by UN Women), that’s all that Cannes thinks too: several women have complained of being turned away from red carpet screenings for wearing flats instead of heels. It’s only logical, after all, that a woman should need to look tall and slim while sitting in a darkened movie theatre for two hours.
Cannes does have a black tie requirement for red carpet screenings, but it seems to be relaxed if the gown in question is something like this.
Sure, it’s actually just a medieval crop top and a pair of skull-print jeggings, but at least she’s wearing Louboutins. That’s what makes it formal. The Cannes sartorial enforcers are equally as happy to let it slide if the gown in question is more flesh than dress (and it frequently is). And, of course, the policy seems to be applied selectively: statuesque model Karlie Kloss walked the Cannes red carpet last year in a lace Valentino and simple leather flats, while many of the women who were turned away from this week’s Carol premiere were over 50, some of them with medical disabilities that required them to wear flat shoes. (Director Asif Kapadia tweeted that his wife received the same treatment.) Cannes director Thierry Fremaux has denied the ban on flats, though another report (in Screen) confirmed with festival officials that women are required to wear high heels to red carpet screenings. But it’s not surprising that there’s a double standard (refer Kloss) and that Cannes would only pay lip service to gender equality.
Karlie Kloss in Valentino flats, at Cannes Film Festival, 2014
Fremaux recently added: “Regarding the dress code for the red carpet screenings, rules have not changed throughout the years (Tuxedo, formal dress for Gala screenings) and there is no specific mention about the height of the women’s heels as well as for men’s. Thus, in order to make sure that this rule is respected, the festival’s hosts and hostesses were reminded of it.” The Screen report where Fremaux was quoted points to a disconnect between departments.
Perhaps having prominent participants speak out against the rule will change their minds. French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, whose film, Sicario – starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, and Benicio del Toro – just premiered at Cannes, joked that “In a sign of protest, Benicio, Josh, and I will walk the stairs in high heels tomorrow.” Blunt added that she was disappointed by the rule, and that “We shouldn’t wear high heels, anyway. I prefer wearing Converse sneakers.” At the red carpet before the premiere, however, Villeneuve, del Toro, and Brolin wore flat shoes. Blunt wore stilettos.
– Simran Bhalla