Cate Blanchett Is Pushing for More Funding for Women and LGBTQ Filmmakers, but She Wants to Know Why Nobody Asks Men How to Fix It

When Cate Blanchett starts shooting a new movie or show, it’s always the same story.

“It’s like Groundhog Day,” Blanchett said at the Kering Women in Motion Talks at the Cannes Film Festival on Monday. “I do the head count, and I’m back in the same place, working with men who I love working with and respect, [but] I’m walking on set and there’s 50 people on set and there’s three women. When is this going to deeply, profoundly shift?”

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Blanchett is trying to change a system that remains male-dominated despite all the panels and protests and calls for action. In addition to debuting her latest film “Rumours” (which she also executive produced), the Oscar-winner is at the festival to promote Proof of Concept, an accelerator program she co-founded last year to elevate the perspectives of women, trans and nonbinary people by financially backing their short “proof of concept” films. Blanchett and her Dirty Films partner Coco Francini were joined on the panel by their partner on the program, Dr. Stacy Smith, founder of the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. Variety senior entertainment writer Angelique Jackson moderated the event. This week, Proof of Concept’s first class of filmmakers will be announced — there are 11 winners from 1,200 applicants.

Beyond questions of fairness, Blanchett believes that there are commercial and creative reasons for shaking up the types of moviemakers who are getting their films greenlit in Hollywood. It means that movies can get made with fresh perspectives, giving space for new visions.

“Their point of view, in whatever story, in whatever genre they tell it, will be different from somebody who has grown up [as a] white middle class male,” she said. “It’s a different perspective. They’ll put the camera in a different place in the room. And I think that’s really exciting.”

And Blanchett’s tired of the double-standard that often gets applied to female directors and male filmmakers when it comes to trying something bold.

“The industry, the more it embraces being risk-averse, the more it’s doomed to being full of banal failures,” Blanchett said. “Anytime that I personally have advanced in my career, it is when I have taken risks. And it’s just that a lot of our male counterparts in the industry are applauded for their risks and their bravery. And they’re given $100 million and all the male actors are taking incredible risks that may not have worked, but God!”

When women are given the same kinds of resources, they face much more pressure to succeed, Blanchett said. She’d like the industry to change so that it supports female filmmakers both when they produce hits, as well as when they have an inevitable stumble.

There’s a lot of work that needs to be done when it comes to providing more opportunities for women, nonbinary and trans filmmakers both in front of and behind the camera. Just 6% of the directors of the 1,700 top-grossing movies were women between 2007 and 2023, and only 2 were transgender, according to a recent report by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. And that impacts the opportunities in front of the camera, as well. Less than one-third of all speaking characters in those same films were girls, women, trans or nonbinary people. Despite the box office and critical success of films by and about women, such as “Barbie” and “Anatomy of a Fall,” a glass ceiling has remained firmly in place when it comes to female-led productions. Last year marked a “historic low” for women in starring roles — a mere 30 of the 100 top-grossing movies featured women and girls in lead and co-lead roles despite the fact that women represent more than half of the population. The goal of “Proof of Concept” is partly to give female filmmakers a chance to make larger-scale movies and to explore genres that traditionally have been monopolized by their male counterparts.

“It allows people to say I can do this,” Francini said. “I don’t have to do a movie that’s a small independent film.”

Though all of the women want to ensure that there is room for underrepresented filmmakers to tell deeply personal stories, that can’t be the only types of movies that they are allowed to make, the panelists argued.

“If you’re making a story about something very unique and small and specific, there’s a ceiling to that,” Francini said. “And if you can bring that gaze into stories that are more broadly commercial and bigger in scope, and deal with genres that are, you know, wide ranging … that’s where you solve this issue of these filmmakers not being able to bring home as much money.”

Female directors also face something called the “fiscal cliff,” which refers to the fact that after making a debut feature, opportunities for a follow-up are much harder to come by.

“There’s a gendered marketplace for historically marginalized individuals when they try to move from one to multiple features,” Smith said. “And for women, trans and nonbinary folks, it’s a one and done. They get one at bat.”

Smith believes that Proof of Concept can help shake up the industry so that one day soon the composition of the casts and crews that work on movies with actors like Blanchett may be radically altered. Take its inaugural class as the potential proof of concept, if you will.

“It’s 11 people,” Smith argued. “[If] each of those filmmakers turn this into a feature. And let’s say they work with 100. And then those 100 people go on and work on another project that they’ve never worked in that capacity [before]. In a very short amount of time, you’re amortizing an entire groundswell of people that would never have had the opportunity and it started with 11. Exponentially, that’s how you create change.”

And though Blanchett is using her celebrity to help bring about that kind of future for the industry, she wants to remind people that female entertainers aren’t the only people who should be quizzed about what needs to happen to make Hollywood more inclusive and equitable.

“There seems to be in the media, in particular, a sense of ‘Haven’t we discussed that?’” Blanchett said. “And it’s like, I feel the same way. Like the amount of times that women are in press conferences, say at a festival like this, and they get asked about women’s representation in films. And there are two men sitting on this panel, I would love for you to ask them that question.”

“Is it my problem?” she added. “It’s my reality. But why are you asking me to solve it?”

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