‘Explosive’ secret list of abusers set to upstage women’s big week at Cannes film festival

For good and bad reasons, on and off the red carpet, the spotlight is trained on women in the run-up to the Cannes film festival this week. As the cream of female film talent, including Hollywood’s Meryl Streep and Britain’s Andrea Arnold, prepare to receive significant career awards, a dark cloud is threatening. It is expected that new allegations of the abuse of women in the European entertainment industry will be made public, which may overshadow the sparkle of a feminist Croisette.

Streep’s screen achievements will be celebrated with an honorary Palme d’Or at the opening ceremony, while a day later Arnold, the acclaimed British film director, will receive the prestigious Carosse d’Or from the French director’s guild. And on Sunday another influential British film personality will be saluted when diversity champion Dame Donna Langley, the chairman and chief content officer at NBCUniversal, is to be honoured with the Women in Motion Award at a lavish dinner. All this comes in a year that also sees the American director Greta Gerwig, best known for last summer’s Barbie, presiding over a jury that features the campaigning stars Eva Green and Lily Gladstone. But the story of the 77th festival will not be all positive for women.

In the run-up to the annual gathering on the Côte d’Azur, rumours have been widespread in France of the existence of a secret list of 10 men in the industry, including leading actors and directors, who have been abusive to women. The names, described as “explosive”, are believed to have been sent anonymously to the National Centre for Cinema in Paris, along with other leading film finance companies in France.

Meryl Streep will be celebrated with an honorary Palme d’Or. Photograph: Stéphane Cardinale/Corbis/Getty Images

According to reports in Le Figaro and the satirical magazine, Le Canard enchaîné, festival organisers have set up a crisis management team to respond to the accusations. Films might have to be dropped from the screening timetable if they involve implicated names.

The impending revelations may prove an apt curtain-raiser for the Wednesday premiere of a short French film, Moi Aussi, about abuse in the industry. The film, which was added to the festival’s Un Certain Regard programme at the last minute, is predicted to prove just as incendiary as the list, owing to its emotive content.

Made by actor Judith Godrèche, dubbed the “ambassador of #MeTooin France, it draws on the words of many female contributors and takes the form of a choral piece, uniting different personal accounts. “Suddenly, before me was a crowd of victims, a reality that also represented France, so many stories from all social backgrounds and generations,” Godrèche has explained. “Then the question was, what I was going to do with them? What do you do when you’re overwhelmed by what you hear, by the sheer volume of testimonies?”

The 52-year-old actor first shook up French cinema in February when she accused the directors Jacques Doillon and Benoît Jacquot of having raped her in the 1980s when she was a teenager. Jacquot, 77, Godrèche said, had a relationship with her when she was under the age of consent. He denies committing any offences and has said that he was “under her spell”. She claims Doillon, 80, forced her to take part in a gratuitous sex scene on his 1989 film La Fille de 15 ans (The 15-year-old Girl). He says she agreed to take part in the scene, in which he also acted, and he denies rape or assault. Godrèche followed up her accusations a month later with a speech at France’s high-profile Cesar awards in which she claimed the film industry had been a cover for exploiting underaged actors.

A still from the short film Moi Aussi, about abuse in the film industry. Photograph: Maneki Films

The effect of new abuse allegations and all the honours being heaped on influential women will certainly mean the opening of the 2024 festival is in strong contrast to last year. Last May, demonstrators on the Croisette opposed Johnny Depp’s appearance in the opening film, Jeanne du Barry. They were angry about recent abuse allegations against him involving his ex-wife Amber Heard that led to his defeat in a British libel trial, although a month later he won a similar libel trial in an American court.

A more progressive tone should be set by Streep’s opening honour, made in recognition of “countless masterpieces” over 50 years of cinema. “To stand in the shadow of those who have previously been honoured is humbling and thrilling in equal part,” said Streep on hearing of the award.

British director Andrea Arnold will receive the prestigious Carosse d’Or award. Photograph: Valéry Hache/AFP/Getty Images

London-born Langley, a “trailblazing” studio chief, is also being rewarded next weekend for fostering “a more inclusive industry” over two decades with films that “provide a platform for women”. Away from film sets, Langley has also campaigned as a board member of Vital Voices and is a founder of the Hollywood Reporter’s Women in Film mentorship programme. Previous winners of the Women In Motion award include Jane Fonda, Salma Hayek, Viola Davis and last year Michelle Yeoh.

Arnold, whose new film, Bird, is showing in the main competition this year, will receive her award after a Wednesday screening of her 2006 film Red Road. Set in Glasgow, it tells of a false accusation of rape made vengefully by a female CCTV operator.

Jury-member Green is one of the more prominent actors to have accused Harvey Weinstein of making inappropriate advances. In 2017 the actor said she had to push away the disgraced producer during a business meeting in Paris. “I got away without it going further, but the experience left me shocked and disgusted,” she said.

The reaction to the #MeToo movement in France has been slower and more nuanced than in America. The legendary actor Catherine Deneuve was among those to initially play down the importance of prosecuting the bad behaviour of men, defending their so-called “right to pester”. But last week French legislators agreed to a government inquiry into sexual and gender-based violence across the country’s performing arts and fashion sectors. And in the autumn, French actor Gérard Depardieu, stands trial on charges of sexually assaulting two women on the set of The Green Shutters. He faces rape charges in another case and is under investigation over allegations of assault. He denies all charges.

The Guardian