In the age of social media outrage, it’s become difficult for even such an esteemed institution as the Cannes Film Festival to be snobbish about its policies. A protest movement has formed after attendees began pointing out that Cannes was barring entry to female guests unless they were wearing high heels, and Quentin Tarantino wasn’t even on the jury this year. The supposed ban applied to red-carpet events, which have a black tie dress code; we say “supposed,” because according to festival head Thierry Fremaux, there is no specific rule about red-carpet footwear. Variety quotes him as saying, “For the steps (red carpet), nothing has changed: Smoking (tuxedo), black tie. No mention of heels.”
If that’s the case, why was Danish film producer Valeria Richter, who has part of her left foot amputated, stopped four times on her way into a screening for wearing flat shoes? (Richter, although the most egregious example, is not the only woman who claims to have been denied entry due to her footwear. Amy director Asif Kapadia says his wife was stopped and questioned about her shoes, and the Screen Daily article that started the whole controversy claims a “handful of women in their 50s” were turned away from the premiere of Todd Haynes’ Carol for the same reason.) Apparently this policy, while unofficial, has been in place for many years, and, as Variety puts it, “the French-speaking monitors are notoriously strict and inconsistent.” The basic issue is that while it’s easy to define what formal wear means for men, for women the rules are more complicated. And, as critics have been quick to point out, perhaps a year when the festival is making a conscious effort to include more women directors presents a good opportunity to loosen those rules a bit.
For women yearning to wear flats on the red carpet, whether as a feminist statement, for health reasons, or just for comfort’s sake, help might be slow in coming. Fremaux has said that he has informed his staff to “clarify” the footwear policy to monitors, but is still vague on what kind of shoes will be acceptable at Cannes going forward. Planned celebrity protests haven’t gone far, either—Emily Blunt has been very vocal in speaking out against the policy, but wore heels to the premiere of her new film Sicario. And her co-stars Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin and director Denis Villeneuve, all of whom vowed to wear heels to the premiere as a protest against the policy, didn’t follow through on their promises. “I tried!” del Toro told Vulture. “I tried to find high heels, but, sadly, I can’t walk in them.”
Now you know how it feels, dude.