International Women's Day 2020

Pushing for power and gender parity in France's film industry

Actors Noemie Merlant (L) and Adele Haenel (R) at the Cesar Awards ceremony in Paris. Haenel has been a figurehead for denouncing sexual harassment in the French film industry.
Actors Noemie Merlant (L) and Adele Haenel (R) at the Cesar Awards ceremony in Paris. Haenel has been a figurehead for denouncing sexual harassment in the French film industry. Piroschka van de Wouw/Reuters
6 min

French actress Adèle Haenel’s storming out of the recent César awards following the decision to award Roman Polanski, wanted for rape in the US, the best director award, has focused attention on sexual harassment within the film industry. It’s not helped by a lack of gender parity. On International Women’s Day, French film producer and founder of the 50/50 Collective Sandrine Brauer talks about the need for change.

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The 50/50 Collective for 2020 was first launched in Cannes in 2016 by the Swedish Film Institute in the wake of the #MeToo movement. It pushes for equal opportunities for women in all sectors of the film industry and seeks to combat sexual harassment through a more equal distribution of power. Sandrine Brauer helped found the French chapter in March 2018. 

(This interview was produced for the Spotlight on France podcast and has been edited for clarity)

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This story is part of the Spotlight on France podcast:
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RFI: What has been your experience of discrimination as a woman film producer in France? 

Sandrine Brauer: Strangely enough, I've never thought of it this way until I started working with the Collectif 50/50. Being a producer was a struggle in the same way it would be for anyone starting their professional life. I didn't think of a gender un-balanced situation.

Now that I think about it, and now that I look around me, probably the men that I know who started the same time as I did have better financial support. I can see that now, but I didn't feel it when I started.

And that's what we're trying to do: to think of a bigger picture than our individual experiences. Because when you come and think only of yourself, then you don't understand the system.

RFI: Did you ever have problems getting funding, going to the bank?

SB: It's a very competitive job! Who's going to get the financing at the end of the day? How can I say it's because of gender bias? I can only tell by really looking at the figures, year after year.

RFI: Where is France at in terms of gender parity in the film industry?

SB: We're still working on getting figures. But in terms of directors, the situation is very clear: 23 per cent of films produced every year are directed by women. That’s in the film industry. In television, 88 per cent of fiction is directed by men, meaning only 12 per cent is directed by women. This is very bad.

In cinema, we’re working together with the CNC (National Centre for Cinema), whcih really wants to promote parity. We worked with the CNC on incentives to promote balanced crews and heads of departments, because we know that crew members are more often men than women.

It's a points-based incentive system. It's small, but it helps.

Sandrine Brauer, productrice française du cinema, co-fondatrice du Collectif 50/50
Sandrine Brauer, productrice française du cinema, co-fondatrice du Collectif 50/50 ©Sandrine Brauer

RFI: What did you think when Adèle Haenel left the César ceremony after Roman Polanski won the César for best director?

SB: I was impressed, and I'm still very impressed. The more I think about it, the more I'm impressed. I think she made the right choice at the right moment. And we cannot thank her enough for being so sharp in her reaction.

But let me say that she was sexually harassed, not by Roman Polanski. The reason I'm saying that it's that every time we speak about that, we tend to connect the two stories.

[Adèle Haenel] gave us a great opportunity to grab the subject - for each one of us to think of what we can do now.

Sandrine Brauer, co-founder 50/50 collective

If we want to open up the box of sexual harassment and violence, the biggest event of the year is what Adèle Haenel spoke out for. And she expressed not only her personal experience, but she also addressed the whole industry very specifically and the process: How you get to remain silent, how the power games make it so different and so difficult to speak out.

RFI: You want people to come forward. What do you want to obtain?

SB: Our task is politically to try and make a move in terms of the system, and ask for measures that the Culture Minister can approve. We're preparing the Etats généraux contre le harcelement (Convention against harassment), a day of workshops with the entire industry, including unions, directors, producers, actors and so on, to think of tools that can help us to prevent and fight against sexual harassment, and harassment on shoots.

RFI: What are some of those tools and measures?

SB: We need training, so people can understand how to prevent harassment. We also want to work on the legal aspect, to remind all the people who work on a crew what the rules are: it's not only about signing the contract, they're making a commitment.

We also need a person on the set whose job it is to hear or to help anyone who's being harassed.  

And then there's the financial aspect. When you shoot a film the budget is so big that people will probably try to put up with harassment to keep filming. If you need to replace a technician because she or he has been harassed or he or she is a harasser,  or if you need to stop the shoot for a day or two because you need to rethink the whole process, there’s a financial cost. We are working right now with insurance companies to see how they can cover that risk.

RFI: Overall, are things improving in the French film industry, in terms of gender parity?

SB: Sadly, we have noted that there were many more women-directed films three years ago than today. And for the past three years, there have been fewer women each year.

We tend to think the contrary, because we had Céline Sciamma and Rebecca Zlotowski at Cannes, or Alice Winocour who also this remarkable film [Proxima].

We have a few remarkable films directed by women. But when it comes to the pictures and the numbers, unfortunately, it's not good enough. And we fear a backlash.

RFI: What do you mean by that?

SB: There was a sense of momentum when the CNC and the French film industry wanted to improve gender parity. But I worry that's it.

Maybe the vote for Polanski [as best director] was also a kind of message to say ‘OK women you've got what you wanted. Now let's get back to business, as usual’. It’s worrying.


This interview was produced for the Spotlight on France podcast.

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