While attending the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, actress Jessica Chastain made a big impression with some choice comments about the state of female representation in media, specifically referencing the many films she'd taken in over the last few days. Her decision to speak out about this has been heralded by many who cheered her on for being "brave" enough to criticize the often-hollow depictions of women on film. But Jessica Chastain's equal gender representation speech at Cannes isn't brave, though it is important.
Chastain described her experience watching movies at Cannes as "quite disturbing" because of how the female characters were treated in many of the films. "There are some exceptions, I will say, but for the most part I was surprised with the representation of female characters onscreen in these films," she said. "I do hope that when we include more female storytellers, we will have more of the women that I recognize in my day-to-day life – ones that are proactive, have their own agency, don't just react to the men around them. They have their own point of view."
All of that is undeniably true: there do need to be more women involved behind the scenes so that stories about women actually feel authentic and honest. But saying that isn't brave – and it's not even asking for a lot. It's asking for the bare minimum.
What is it about the world that makes it so remarkable for a woman to say that female characters should have their own point of view? This is said with no disrespect to Chastain, who always makes a point of standing up for women on screen, but what is so revolutionary about these comments? Calling her "brave" implies that there's some kind of risk involved in her speaking out. But why should she be risking anything by asking that women be given equal opportunities and treated like fully rounded humans?
Everyone knows why, of course. Sexism and racism run as rampant as they ever did, and media reflects that with a lack of honest representation for marginalized groups. Chastain herself isn't risking anything because her position in Hollywood is assured, but an actress just starting out might not be able to do the same, which is ridiculous; it's commendable that Chastain uses her voice for things that matter, because many don't or can't. But it seems like these conversations have been going on for decades and the progress is slower than slow. It's 2017. It shouldn't be brave to wish that women were treated equally. It should just be par for the course that they are.