We'd like to introduce you to the number 82, an especially significant number at this year's Cannes Film Festival because 82 is the number of female directors who've been selected to compete at Cannes — 82 compared with more than 1600 male directors selected since Cannes started in 1946.
So yesterday, 82 women from the film industry walked the red carpet in solidarity to make a statement about gender inequality in their respective fields. The demonstration featured speeches and appearances by Hollywood stars, including Kristen Stewart, Cate Blanchett and Salma Hayek.
Melissa Silverstein was also among the demonstrators. She's the founder of the initiative Women and Hollywood, a website and blog that advocates for gender diversity in the global film industry. Melissa joins us here today, and Melissa, thank you for joining us.
MELISSA SILVERSTEIN: Happy to be here.
SINGH: So describe the scene yesterday on the red carpet. What was it like, Melissa?
SILVERSTEIN: It was one of those moments that's kind of surreal that when you're in it, you don't realize how monumental it is. And then, you know, a couple of hours later, you're like, wow, that was just amazing. And it's really historical for the Cannes Film Festival because it has had such a problem with dealing with women and gender. And so for them to stand up with the French women of the 50/50 by 2020 coalition and to say we are going to make a statement here that we are going to be better in the future is quite meaningful.
SINGH: Why do this at the Cannes Film Festival? It seems it's a much more systematic problem, as you know, about who is making movies, who gets financed, which movies are approved. I mean, it's much broader than Cannes Film Festival. Why was staging this demonstration, this expression of solidarity so important to do at Cannes at this time?
SILVERSTEIN: Well, from my understanding, Cannes has the worst numbers. And so what the French women wanted to do — and all of us wanted to do and have been doing for many years — is to say that this is unacceptable, and we are holding you accountable, and you need to figure out a way to have more transparency about how you pick the films, that we will no longer accept this false narrative that there are not enough women at the top of the business to compete against the men.
SINGH: Tell me about some of the demands that this group was making. What are some of the immediate steps that can be taken, you believe, in this industry?
SILVERSTEIN: I think the first thing is you hire women. The studies have shown that once you have women in positions of power and leadership, firstly, the stories change. There are more women in the stories. And also, the people working behind the scenes changes. So when you add women — you add inclusion and diversity — it's just the way that women operate in the world, having been kind of marginalized for so many years. And really, one of the biggest issues is the access to opportunity for women of color.
SINGH: That was Melissa Silverstein, founder of the initiative Women and Hollywood. She joins us from Cannes Film Festival.
Melissa, thank you so much for spending time with us.
SILVERSTEIN: Thanks, Lakshmi.