An Actress's Thoughts

Cannes and Eurovision: Saturday Night’s Alright for Change

They’re Not Your Dolls

  • Open the Festival Doors! – for men AND WOMEN
  • 50:50 by 2020
  • I’m not your Toy, you stupid Boy!
  • Poupée on a String
  • Hey! I think you Forgot How to Play
  • Simpy different

Last saturday, in France in Portugal:
At Cannes Film Festival women in film emphasized the call for change for the industry and society by staging a symbolic piece of action and issuing a statement on the red carpeted stairs leading up to the festival palais.
And in Lisbon 25-year-old Israeli musician Netta won the Eurovision Song Contest with her electro pop dance song TOY, which celebrates individualism and is a clear women‘s power message in times of #metoo.

Open the Festival Doors! – For Men AND WOMEN

82 women stood on those Cannes steps – 82, since that is the number of female directors whose films have been invited to the competition of the Festival de Cannes since 1946. 82, as opposed to 1,688 male directors.

Cate Blanchett, Australian actress, founding member of TimesUp and president of this year‘s competition jury led the 82 women, and together with French director Agnès Varda, who received an honorary golden palm for her oeuvre, read out this declaration:

Women are not a minority in the world, yet the current state of our industry says otherwise. As women, we all face our own unique challenges, but we stand together on these steps today as a symbol of our determination and our commitment to progress. We are writers, we are producers, we are directors, actresses, cinematographers, talent agents, editors, distributors, sales agents and all of us are involved in the cinematic arts.
And we stand in solidarity with women of all industries.
We expect our institutions to actively provide parity and transparency in their executive bodies and provide safe environments in which to work.
We expect our governments to make sure that the laws of equal pay for equal work are upheld.
We demand that our workplaces are diverse and equitable so they can best reflect the world in which we actually live. A world that allows all of us in front and behind the camera, all of us to thrive shoulder to shoulder with our male colleagues.
And we acknowlege all of the women and men around the world who are standing for change.
The stairs of our industry must be accessible to all. Let’s climb.

This sounds a bit like a preamble, so of course specific measures need to follow, not only at Cannes Festival, but in the film industries of the different countries as well as beyond. The next day, lively and at times fierce discussions were held the next day on what next steps should be. For this, refer to Stewart Clarke in Variety, 13.5.18: Cannes- Biz Sets Agenda for Next Stage of #MeToo,   Chris Gardner and Rhonda Richford in the Hollywood Reporter 12.5.18: Cannes- Cate Blanchett-Led Women’s March Takes Center Stage on Red Carpet, Sabine Schultz and Franziska Ruhland in Germany‘s heutejournal 14.5.18 (Videoclip. Update 2019: not online any more): Starke Frauen in Cannes. By the way, I will shortly publish my blog text on the inclusion rider.

Climbing the Steps did not only get positive reactions, New Zealander Marian Evans writes about some critical comments from highly committed activists in her text (Agnès Varda & Cate Blanchett Speak at Cannes, Among 82 Amazing Women). She also offers a video of the event including Blanchett‘s English and Varda‘s French statements.

50:50 by 2020

While French cinema wasn’t shaken by the Weinstein shock wave, it is essential that we move to take concrete action reaching beyond the issue of sexual abuse alone.
5050×2020 France

Do you remember Le Deuxième Regard? It‘s an alliance, a network of French women in film, founded in 2013 by Delphyne Besse, Julie Billy and Bérénice Vincent (refer to my blog texts Vive la Nouvelle Révolution du Cinéma! and Interview: Wellywood Woman & Le Deuxième Regard of Oktocer 2013 for more information).

Le Deuxième Regard were also involved in the action on the steps, and also, recently they started the French 5050×2020 campaign, also for Cannes. In their compact 5050×2020 Charter for Parity and Inclusion in Cinema, Audiovisual and Animation Festivals, they suggest that film festivals should self-commit to three targets, – and artistic directors Thierry Frémont (Filmfestival Cannes), Edouard Waintrop (Director’s Fortnight)  and Charles Tesson (Critics‘ Week) were the first to sign.

The three keypoints to which the signatories commit in the name of their festivals, concern Data / Compiling statistics according to Gender, Transparency / Making visible the list of members of selection committees and programmers and Parity / transforming the executive bodies of festivals within the current mandate periods.
5050×2020 want to get other festivals to sign the charter – only in France, or possibly all over Europe or even globally?

The project is primarily concerned with films of female directors, but also with the presentation of women, with stereotypes, role models and identification possibilities. So here, next to cinema and tv, also the music industry should be focussed on. Back to Lisbon, because on the same evening of the Cannes happening, the ESC provided an excellent example, along with a cool song for the next film party or #TimesUp, #MeToo, WIFT or PQ Film event.

I’m not your Toy, you stupid Boy!

I‘ve been told so many times that I‘m not pretty enough, that I‘m not smart enough, I‘m not skinny enough to do what I want to do. And that‘s it, it‘s an empowerment song for everybody, everybody can find something in it.
Netta Barzilai

Netta, this year‘s ESC winner is a woman who doesn‘t meet the usual beauty and body norms, she doesn‘t wear her long hair loose in a flowing mane, she makes faces, she‘s funny  and positive and she has a great vocal range and stage presence. Netta, who has become an icon for the LGTB community not only in her homecountry, is a muscian, a singer, and first of all a live performing looping artist. Unfortunately she was not able to show this, as live instruments are not allowed on the ESC stage for whatever reason, and so no sound looper, but instead – as they explained in an interview before the final – they used the background singers for a similar effect and some light loopings. You can see her using the looper in the official TOY video.

Netta at ESC 2018 (drawing by SchspIN)

Netta at the ESC. נטע ,סליחה ,זה לא טוב

Netta commented on the Israeli selection, and indirectly on the lack of role models on television at the ESC Winner’s press conference:

The Israeli selection for Eurovision lasted for like six months. I didn‘t expect to win because I was to avantgarde, I did music with my looper, nobody dd it in Israel before me in the primetime. And then I won, and I didn‘t expect that. And when I won I realized I could do something really really special for a lot of people.
If young Netta had seen me in primetime (tv), young Netta was less unhappy because there was an option, there was somebody else, something else, another example. And that‘s it, that is why I am doing what I am doing in this platform. And I am very very happy that I did.“

There‘s a video by Eurovision Hub which is quite nice in this context, it‘s ESC fans from different countries testing the entries, in this case TOY (Eurovision 2018 Reaction Video).

Poupée on a String

One of the very few Hebrew lines in Netta‘s TOY is „ani lo buba“ – I am not a doll. 50 years before her two women had to sing just that – in the then called Grand Prix Eurovision de la Chanson – and they both won. In 1965, 17-year-old France Galle with POUPÉE DE CIRE, POUPÉE DE SON / wax doll, sound doll (Video b/w), and in 1967 20-year-old Sandie Shaw with PUPPET ON A STRING (Video b/w).
Journalist Gesa Ufer recently commented on France Galle‘s chanson (listen to it in German:Raunchy Lolli-Pop dressed as a chanson“).

The wax doll is read as a synonym for a virgin, who wants to be melted so she „won‘t be afraid of being near boys any more. And then she will turn into the sound doll, a doll that cries out with pleasure. This line of reading the song is supported by the fact that both the juries of France and Monaco, being the only ones that would understand such allusions, didn‘t award a single point to the song. And France Galle, who later called „Poupée de cire, poupées de son“ a silly song, did not want to sing it any more.

(Sorry, I only found German or French articles on this.) A similar reaction to her own song is reported of Sandie Shaw (taken from Songfacts):

Despite the song’s success, Sandie despised the recording. She later said she hated it “from the very first oompah to the final bang on the bass drum. I was repelled by its sexist drivel.”

Here‘s an extract from the song – which Sandie Shaw performed in a very short, light pink dress:

I wonder if one day that, you’ll say that, you care. If you say you love me madly, I’ll gladly be there, like a puppet on a string. In or out, there is never a doubt, Just who’s pulling the strings. I’m all tied up in you. But where’s it leading me to?

But then that’s in the past, both songs of course are more than half a century old. But then, there‘s a more recent song (2016), also called PUPPET ON A STRING that you can hear a lot on the radio. Sung by actress / singer Jasmin Tabatabai, who has been actively supporting Pro Quote for years (an organization of female journalists campaigning for parity in chief editor positions in the media, and also the recently founded organisation Pro Quote Film. So obviously I had always thought that her puppet‘s story would have a happy ending, e.g. cutting the strings, but I had never really paid attention to the full text (by Paula Romy). Until now. But no, but no, nothing happens. From the first lines: “What is that look upon your face, A simple mood, or have I fallen from grace? (…) Did I fail in bed, was it something I have said?” via “Oh stupid me, ’cause you’re the king, and I’m your puppet on a string“ up to the end „Just like your puppet on a string. For end this game you always win. And I’m your puppet on a string. I’m your puppet on a string.“ things remain how they are. Ironic? awkward. (this is the official music video).

Something more agreeable happened 20 years ago at the Birmingham Eurovision Song Contest of 1998 which was won by Israeli singer Dana International and her song DIVA (Video). Unfortunately I can‘t really quote from the text, as I don‘t speak Hebrew and online I basically two English versions which are quite contradictory, so I‘ll just say that it seems like an empowerment song from a time when this word was not customary, in Germany at least, and also that it was the first time in Eurovision history, that a transsexual woman had won (or even participated, although I*m not quite sure of that). Anyway, a diva is not a doll, therefore it‘s not really a song for the line-up of doll references, so let‘s get back to Netta and TOY.

Hey! I Think You Forgot How to Play

Thank you so much for choosing difference.
Thank you so much for accepting differences between us.
Thank you for celebrating diversity.

Indeed, a clear majority of ESC fans had celebrated diversity in a big party across Europe, the winning song had been a favourite of the audiences and invites you to get on the dance floor, so everything should be alright. It‘s about fun, isn‘t it?

Unfortunately not for all, and then there were, as is happening so often on the internet: hate tweets, threats of violence, bodyshaming, antisemitism, hostility against Israel directed at the winner, and after all, wasn‘t Netta victory some kind of fraud, because she really hadn‘t been that good, so she should return the award. Quite funny the criticism that everybody now knows that harrassment is bad, so why have a song about it.
Of course it doesn‘t matter if people like Netta‘s music or not, – but seriously, what are people thinking who react in such a way when their favourite act didn‘t win? Do they write to all the others, telling them that their songs were rubbish?

I used to live in Bremen in the north of Germany for a while, and there was this saying among men‘s football fans: „100 % for Werder (Bremen), 150 % against HSV (Hamburg). Not just a little rivalvry, but hatred? Seriously?

Unfortunately negative emotions like these are part of the internet‘s every day culture. Since the latest STAR WARS film came out, THE LAST JEDI, director Rian Johnson and producer Kathleen Kennedy were being verbally attacked in a really awful way by fans who simply didn‘t like the lasted chapter of this SciFi soap. And actor Tony Gardner, who played the not so nice John in the British tv series LAST TANGO IN HALIFAX, related in an interview the other day, that people would come up to him and got mad at him personally and insulted him, because of the way his character was written and he therefore played it. In theatre for children, it is not uncommon that the bad guys of a played get booed at during the curtain calls, but here we are talking about grown-ups, verbally abusing the persons behind roles, who can‘t see the difference between fiction, a game, illusion – and reality. Crazy.

TOY, the essentially harmless victory at ESC of a 25-year-old musician. And she is now being insulted as a murderess and is made responsible for the politics of the Israeli government? What kind of an approach is that? Just go out and start dissing Serena Williams after each GrandSlam win, Wimbledon 2010 and 2012, French Open 2013, Australian Open 2015, because US president Obama still hadn‘t closed the Guantanamo prison camp even though he had promised in 2009 to do so within a year? Or be after director Wes Anderson after his silver bear at Berlinale Film Festival 2018, because of Trump? Or insult footballer Alex Popp at tomorrows cup final and make her responsible for the exhaust fumes skandal at Volkswagen, because they are the jersey sponsor at her club VfL Wolfsburg?

And then there was the accusation of cultural appropriation against Netta, because she had been wearing a jacket similar to a kimono, she had loads of maneki neko (waving cats) as props on the stage and there were elements of Korean pop in her music. As far as I know these accusations didn‘t come from Japanese or other Asians.

US chat show host Trisha Goddard, defining cultural appropriation as the concept of the adoption of a minority culture by members of the dominant culture“ commented on British morning television:

Japan is not a minority culture. This young lady is obsessed with Pokemon and all of those with Nintendo. So she was dressed up to look like that. I am not your Toy, Pokemons are a toy, and it‘s the metoo, I am not to be played with sexually. It was a bit of fun with an important message. The woman is crazy about Japan. If I was Japanese, if I had anything to do with manufacturing Pokemon and all those games, I would be falling on my knees thanking her.“

Japanese journalist Yuko Suzuki added:

I think it‘s not a cultural appropriation at all, it‘s quite lovely to see our culture adopted and incorporated in another culture and expressed in such a unique and entertaining way. I thought her performance was really unique and I actually I really enjoyed watching her.

And Julian Dörr wrote in the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung (A slap in the face of all who doubt metoo, Netta deservedly wins the ESC):

This kind of criticism forgets that pop music is always an amalgamation, which does not work without appropriation. Pop is a melting pot, where everything flows together, the kimono and the waving cats, K-pop and the orient, and where the New is created from the convergence of the Old. Netta Barzilai represents exactly this melting pot of individualisms. Her song „toy“ is at state of the art – and a clear message to all that hate women, overweight people and Israel.

Sometimes it‘s not about better or worse, but simply about different.“ (BRS)

Looking at the criticism voiced by Salvador Sobral, winner of last year‘s ESC brings us back to Cannes, to the film industry. He couldn‘t stand TOY and called it „terrible“ (which he can do of course ) and he pointed out again what music and the ESC should be about. Feelings, and meening – not fastfood music and fireworks.

This is not really very professional and also quite rude, and at the same time strange, because how would he know if there are no other songs with feelings and meaning in the competition if he doesn‘t listen to them? But first of all he gives a classical example of possessive prerogative of interpretation (I hope that‘s the English term for it). Who is to say that fireworks and feelings exclude one another? (Some years ago I had watched a theatre performance in Japan that included fireworks, which was very touching). Who defines which are the real feelings and that other feelings are less valuable? „Women can‘t do cop films“ is a typical prejudice of the film industry, and most women in film will probably to tell one or two stories of what they are being served in terms of „women just aren‘t so good at this“ and „this is something women simply do worse“. And especially television keeps defining what „women‘s films“ and „women‘s topics“ are. But maybe it‘s all just not true? Just like the same old „this is what the audience wants to see“ and „this is something the audience doesn‘t like“ is not?

I just had a look at Sobral‘s portuguese ballad, written by his sister Luisa Sobral. It is the story of a broken / ended love and of a man who can‘t accept it. It‘s just another pop song, and love is always a big topic with ESC songs, and of course we shouldn‘t take the lyrics too literally. But doesn‘t it come across as a bit strange that a refusal is interpreted in such a way that the one leaving doesn‘t want to feel passion? Maybe there‘s just no passion left for him / the singer? Hm, not quite the potential for a hymn to the #nomeansno campaign…

I beg you to return, to want me again, I know that one can’t love alone. Maybe slowly you might learn again. If your heart doesn’t wish to give in, Not to feel passion, not to suffer, Without making plans of what will come after, My heart can love for the both of us.

Netta reacted in a gracious and masterul (or should I say mistressful?) way to Sobral‘s criticism by emphasizing diversity, donning a snapshot of her together with Elenie Foureira who ended up in 2nd place of the competition: click and click. Diversity belongs to music, to films, to life.

Another word for diversity is reality.

And here‘s a little weekend listening: an acoustic version of TOY that Netta did at a press conference with a one-string guitar. And do look up some of her live looping performances on the internet, for example this one, this or that. – that’s her own music and really great.

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