How Cannes chiefs' footwear cops earned festival a flat reception
Strongarm tactics over ladies’ shoe styles trample film festival’s glamour with the jackboots of officialdom
It’s been the week of the Cannes film festival and, as such, an open goal for the media to provide ample coverage of glamorous people and speculate over which films could come up trumps at the box office and the Oscars. At a typical Cannes, news and gossip pages are filled with lush images highlighting the allure of the red carpet, and copy detailing which actor is wearing which designer. But the headlines have been a little different this time around.
“Flatgate” – as it’s been named – erupted this week after a number of women attending the festival’s films on Sunday night were refused entry to events… for not turning up in high heels.
It was reported that, at the premiere of Cate Blanchett’s film Carol, women were turned away for wearing flat shoes – a revelation that unsurprisingly escalated in online discourse, forcing festival director Thierry Fremaux to announce on Twitter that there was no footwear policy. After the incident, Fremaux’s colleague Christine Aime, an official spokeswoman, somewhat muddied the waters by saying: “There is no specific mention about the height of the women's heels … Thus, in order to make sure that this rule is respected, the festival's hosts and hostesses were reminded of it.”
So far, so 1984.
As the week went on, more reports of the strict policy came out and film producer Valeria Richter – who is missing part of her foot through an amputation – told reporters that officials had “pointed their finger at my shoe and then were waving their fingers at me”. They then reportedly said; “No, no, this won’t work, you can’t get in like this”. Richter did get into the premiere in the end – but said that others who weren’t in heels “were rejected and did not come in”.
Celebrities were quick to comment, with actress Emily Blunt saying: “It’s very disappointing. You kind of think that there’s these new waves of equality and waves of people realising that women are just as fascinating and interesting to watch, and bankable.” In his own wry take, actor Benicio del Toro commented: “I tried to find high heels but sadly, I can’t walk in them”.
The notion that even though there was no specific guidance, but an unspoken rule, is hard enough to take in – but trying to enforce an unspoken rule is even less digestible. This has blown up into quite a big story for Cannes organisers, and while the coverage may not bring any immediate changes to the world’s most famous film festival, it will continue to breed negativity – and in reputational terms, this is likely to be the kind of issue that sticks.
Will Edwards is managing director of media training consultancy Bluewood Training.