Jessica Chastain called the onscreen representation of women in this year’s lineup of Cannes Film Festival films “quite disturbing” during a press conference Sunday after the annual event handed out its yearly awards.
“I do believe that if you have female storytelling you also have more authentic female characters,” Chastain said Sunday after her jury awarded Sofia Coppola with the Cannes best director award, making Coppola only the second woman to ever take home that honor (and first female filmmaker to do so since 1961). “This is the first time I’ve watched 20 films in 10 days, and I love movies. And the one thing I really took away from this experience is how the world views women from the female characters that I saw represented. It was quite disturbing to me, to be honest.”
Chastain said that while she found there to be “some exceptions,” the portrayal of women “surprised” her. She added, “I do hope that when we include more female storytellers, we will have more of the women that I recognize in my day-to-day life. Ones that are proactive, have their own agencies, don’t just react to the men around them. They have their own point of view.”
Chastain’s comments went viral on Monday after filmmaker Ava DuVernay posted the video of her remarks online.
Chastain has been a vocal proponent of gender equality in Hollywood for years. In 2015, while on the set of The Zookeeper’s Wife (which was released earlier this year), Chastain wrote an essay for The Hollywood Reporter on the importance of female representation behind-the-camera.
“Some people might say a woman can’t direct this because of that, or a man can’t direct that because of this. I don’t like to do that. Look at Kathryn Bigelow: She can do incredible action films. Or Anthony Minghella, who directed the most beautiful, sensitive romances. For me, sex really isn’t the qualifier in the way someone directs — but I just know that when you have a set with predominantly one gender, whether it be all men or all women, it’s not going to be a healthy place,” Chastain wrote. “I imagine it’s the same thing in the workforce or other environments: When you have both genders represented, then you have a healthier point of view. The energy is great, you all are working together as a community, and everyone is participating in the exchange of ideas. You don’t feel a hierarchy; you don’t have anyone feeling like they are being left out or bullied or humiliated. Sometimes being the only girl on a set, you can feel like a sexual object.”
Last year, Chastain helped start Freckle Films, a production company that’s focused on promoting women in front of and behind the camera.
Coppola won best director for The Beguiled, which stars Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, and Colin Farrell and focuses on what happens when an injured Union soldier (Farrell) is taken in by an all-women Southern boarding school during the Civil War. During her acceptance remarks, Coppola thanked Jane Campion for “supporting women filmmakers”; Campion, who returned to Cannes this year with the second season of Top of the Lake, is the only female filmmaker to win the Palme d’Or (an award she shared with Farewell, My Concubine director Chen Kaige in 1993).