“A Festival of Rapists and Abusers” … How Has Johnny Depp Been Resurrected to The Red Carpet? 


By Iman Amarah

“A festival of rapists and abusers”, is how French feminists described the seventy-sixth edition of the Cannes International Film Festival, after the appearance of Johnny Depp.

In a statement titled “Shame”, French feminist groups, led by Osez Fe Féminisme and several actresses, expressed anger at the festival’s administration.

The statement condemned “the festival’s welcoming of abusive men and rapists, and opening the doors to them as if nothing had happened. While women are driven towards silence and complicity, or leaving the profession altogether, just like what happened with Adèle Haenel.”

Adele is the first French actress to expose what happens behind the scenes in the film industry, and how its women workers are subjected to repeated sexual assaults. Adele has been known for her dissenting stances during festivals and her strong speeches, which ended with her retirement this year. This opposed what she described as a “misogynist, racist, and capitalist cinematic milieu.”

Frequent celebration of aggressors at Cannes

However, this feminist outcry faded amid the sounds and lights of flashes, the cheers of journalists and fans, and the hustle and bustle of fashion and jewelry.

This is not the first time the festival sparks controversy, due to the works it displays and the criteria for selecting the winners, or because of the attending stars. And certainly not the first time one of the world’s most important film festivals celebrates those who abuse women. In 2017, they showed a film for Roman Polanski, who was a fugitive from American justice years ago after raping an unconscious minor.  Polanski continued to work and appear in the media and art scenes in France, where he lives and enjoys the support of many stars.

The festival also honored director Woody Allan, despite being accused of assaulting his adopted daughter, in accordance with the principle of distinguishing between the artist and the man. It is the magical principle that justifies crimes, according to the perpetrators’ degree of fame and creativity.

Moreover, the statements of the two protagonists of the film “The Life of Adele”, directed by Abdellatif Kechiche, about the harsh filming conditions of the sex scenes, were ignored. Additionally, he disregarded the actress in his next film, “Mektoub… My Love” leaving the hall, objecting to the screening of sexual scenes without her consent. And other very negative attitudes toward the demands of women workers in the film industry.

Cannes Festival… False promises of change

This edition of the Festival de Cannes follows continuous promises to adjust the balance of participants and juries for greater representation in favor of women and minorities.

Like every year, it becomes clear that the curators and organizers are not serious about addressing the demands of actresses, directors, feminists, and those working in the film and entertainment industry.

Over the years, the work of women directors participating in film competitions has increased, alongside with t women jury members and even women in-chief. But the number is still less than expected, and the chances are far from being equal. Everyone is more and more interested in actress costumes and directors’ hairstyles at the expense of their work. The exhibitionist side prevails, with little embarrassment about this imbalance.

This year in particular, voices have been louder, both outside and within the center as a new tradition, which may soon hit the World Festival. This year the star of the festival was Johnny Depp, the hero of the premiere film. Depp is back in the spotlight after his cases with ex-partner Amber Heard caught the world’s attention and witnessed unprecedented coverage of such a personal case.

“Misogyny”, the champion of the 2023 Festival de Cannes

Johnny Depp crossed the gate of the festival with a French film, which was boycotted by Hollywood and its producers. Yet it received free publicity that exceeded expectations, despite Depp’s poor accent and poor performance. The latter couldn’t be overlooked, even by the most patriarchal art critics.

Not only was the American actor present as a guest, but he also had the honor of having his film as the Premiere film. The Premiere film is traditionally the most important event and witnesses the presence of the largest number of photographers and journalists.

Seven minutes. This wasn’t how long Johnny Depp appeared on screen, or the festival’s red carpet. It was seven minutes of heated applause and whistles of admiration with which the audience and stars greeted Depp after the screening of “Jeanne de Barry”.

Seven minutes could be enough to kill or rape a woman inside a closed room. It was enough to mark Depp’s return to cinema, fame, and celebration.

These minutes are enough for every survivor to feel that this world has chosen to side with predators. A few minutes is enough to make each one of us realize that the winds of change that we imagined the “Me Too” movement has brought about, would require at least a few more years.

The overthrow of privileged men who exploited their positions became a mere memory and passed, like a fresh summer breeze. As soon as the world’s most famous milieu woke up from its stupor, caught its breath, and sacrificed two or three names, the wheel continued to spin over women’s bodies.

Johnny Depp… Between resurrection and absurdity

This year, the festival chose Jeanne du Barry to debut the film season for the awards competition. At first glance, it may seem like just another historical film, in which we see dresses exceeding two meters in diameter and multi-tiered wigs. But its director and lead actress Maiwenn Le Besco had a different opinion.

The film received a generous budget, as yet unknown, from the Red Sea Festival in Saudi Arabia. This is a continuation of the Kingdom’s efforts to polish its image, and to emerge as a progressive country that cares about art and gives everyone just what they need for “creativity.”

Maiwenn Le Besco announced that she was in the making of a “Feminist” film, about one of France’s most dramatically endowed historical figures: the Countess of Barry. The controversy surrounding the film came to a head with Johnny Depp on the red carpet. But it was not the only point that provoked the whirlwinds of debate, denunciations, and support.

The director’s choice of theme, as well as Johnny Depp’s agreement to return with this particular film, were not in vain. We can only notice the signals sent through. Depp returns to the cinema and the limelight as a crowned king again in reality and the film. He plays King Louis XV, nicknamed “Louis the Beloved”.

“The Countess of Barry,” with whom the director accustomed to releasing semi-personal films identifies, had a difficult and impoverished childhood. In her early adolescence, she enters a relationship with a man older than her, who later introduces her to the court of King Louis XV. The king chooses her to be his favorite mistress, despite her rejection by his surroundings because of her origins.

Many critics and spectators saw a new reflection of the life story of Maiwenn, who in her childhood suffered from domestic violence. The director admitted it, through the character of Jean Baptiste du Barry, the lover of the countess who introduced her to the king and palace life. He is similar to director Luc Besson, who introduced Maiwenn to fame in her early adolescence as an actress in his films, and also as a minor wife.

The film received a generous budget, as yet unknown, from the Red Sea Festival in Saudi Arabia. This is a continuation of the Kingdom’s efforts to polish its image, and to emerge as a progressive country that cares about art and gives everyone just what they need for “creativity.”

The director who resurrected Johnny Depp

It’s worth noting that the film’s leading nominee was French actor Gérard de Pardieu, who is currently on trial for sexually assaulting at least 20 women.

To understand the conflict that still rages even after the festival is over, it is necessary to get back to the character of the director and actress as well. This is not her first time supporting abusive men.

The public knew Maiwenn’s name through her participation in the famous film “Léon” (Léon 1994), but not as an actress. It was because of her relationship with the film’s director (Luc Besson) during filming when she was only 15 years old. Her work as an actress and director has won awards at many French and international festivals.

She stepped away from the spotlight for a while, returning with a documentary about French actresses, Le Bal des Actrices. News circulated that those who refused to participate in the film were subjected to verbal violence, defamation, and abuse. And those who participated suffered from stressful filming conditions, and some complained of filming and showing footage, without their knowledge and consent.

Then there was Polisse, which grossed fantastically and won the Cannes Prize in 2011. She traced the diary of a police team specializing in cases of violence against minors, a subject that Maiwenn knew personally and intimately. She lived a childhood with a family that psychologically and physically abused her, as she portrayed with dazzling courage in her first film, Pardonnez-moi.

A pattern in supporting abusers

Despite the praise of the public, critics, and child protection associations for the film “Polisse”, some did not like the use of rapper and actor Joey Star. Starr was her partner at the time and was sentenced in several cases of violence against his ex-partners, or women, working with him.

Then a hurricane of “Me too” got to her. She was one of the signatories to the statement defending the “right to harassment”. She wished that men would harass her for many years to come so that she would feel “beautiful and wanted”.

Maiwenn has publicly defended director Roman Polanski, who is accused of a minor rape case. She also defended her ex-husband, director Luc Besson, who is also accused of rape. She, herself, was charged with two cases of violence and assault.

The first was filed by actress and director Julie Gayet. As Maiwenn asked her to participate in a documentary she was directing about spousal violence. But when Julie Gayet refused, Maiwenn threatened to slaughter her. The second incident was the beating of journalist Edwy Plenel, editor-in-chief of the independent media network Mediapart. After he published investigations into the accusations against her ex-husband.


“Johnny Depp” and the perfect choice

In light of these facts, choosing Johnny Depp to star in her latest film and its theme is consistent with her previous stances. Although several women won the Cannes Awards, it was an incomplete achievement. It seems that this was staged to absorb angry voices, rather than an acknowledgement of women’s endeavors within the film industry.

The film depicts all the men supporting the countess and surrounding her with their unconditional care and sincere friendships. While women antagonized and tried to trap her because she was “smarter and prettier.” And because she managed to win the heart of the most influential man, the king.

This is the world, as Maiwenn perceives it in reality and art. This explains why she has no regrets about defending rapists and abusers or favoring misogynist trends. Perhaps because she seeks to create a space for herself in the film industry that is built upon marginalizing and sexually objectifying women. Although several women won the Cannes Awards, it was an incomplete achievement. It seems that this was staged to absorb angry voices, rather than an acknowledgment of women’s endeavors within the film industry, or out of a desire to provide a safe and comfortable environment for creation and creativity, in the middle of predators, rapists, and abusers. Those for whom the red carpet is rolled out year after year, under the pretext of separating the art from the artist, and the person from the politician. As if cinema and art are isolated from the real world.

Cannes is over and will return next year with the same hubbub and lights, celebrating once again those who turn women’s lives into hell.



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