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Cannes 2019: why is the film festival still banning women from wearing flats on the red carpet?

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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Back in 2015, Cannes was roundly censured for imposing a ban on flat shoes on the red carpet. In 2019, why are they still turning women away for opting out of high heels? 

As far as film festivals go, it doesn’t get more glamorous than Cannes.

The sprawling red carpet along the croisette, the banks of photographers in their tuxedos, those soaring steps leading up to the main venue… Few red carpets provide as much fodder for a photo opportunity as Cannes. It’s why gaggles of supermodels descend on the French Riviera every year to attend the premieres of tiny Taiwanese art films they probably won’t even see. A glamorous picture at Cannes can send you global.

And yet the film festival has struggled with what that glitz and that glamour means in the modern era. Cannes has always had a strict dress code – at few festivals, for example, are the paparazzi photographers asked to wear tuxedos to merely cover the red carpet – but in 2015 they made headlines for turning a group of women away because they were wearing flats. The festival chief responded to the furore, saying that there was nothing in the official dress code prohibiting flat shoes. And yet the festival’s security guards did not allow these women to enter because they were not deemed ‘glamorous’ or dressed up enough in their flat shoes. Whatever that means. 

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The festival was roundly criticised at the time. Emily Blunt spoke out at a press conference, saying “everyone should wear flats, to be honest. We shouldn’t wear high heels. That’s very disappointing, just when you kind of think there are these new waves of equality.” 

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Then stars Kristen Stewart and Julia Roberts removed their high heels on the red carpet and defiantly strode up the steps of the film festival barefoot. “Things have to change immediately,” Stewart said, in 2016, about the dress code. “It has become really obvious that if [a man and I] were walking the red carpet together and someone stopped me and said, ‘Excuse me, young lady, you’re not wearing heels. You cannot come in.’ Then [I’m going to say], ‘Neither is my friend. Does he have to wear heels?’ It can work both ways… I get the black-tie thing but you should be able to do either version – flats or heels.”

These quotes are from 2016, a year after the festival first made headlines for reportedly enforcing a sexist and antiquated flat shoe ban. And yet, three years later in 2019, the festival has done it again.

This week, a Cannes security guard tried to bar Claudia Eller, a critic from Variety from entering a screening because she was wearing flat shoes. “I’m having an argument with you because it is not fair,” Eller says in a video she posted to Twitter. “It is an antiquated system. I come here every year to Cannes… It is very sexist. Do you ever stop a man?” 

Eventually, after threatening to post the video of their conversation to Variety, the security begrudgingly lets her past. But Eller’s point still stands.

The refusal to accept flat shoes as appropriately glamorous for the red carpet is a serious problem, whether or not there’s an official ban or not. It’s 2019 and women are already forced to endure more than men when it comes to red carpet dressing. The bar for women is already so high. While men can settle for a suit (and a pair of flat shoes), women have to squeeze themselves into Spanx and cantilever themselves into some ridiculous red carpet contraption for the purposes of taking some photographs. They must endure this all with a big smile on their face, lest they be branded a diva as Emily Blunt was at the Mary Poppins Returns premiere because she walked straight in the venue after posing on the red carpet in sub-zero temperatures in a silk dress and open-toe high heels.

“The red carpet is like a throwback to the Fifties,” Anna Brüggemann, the founder of the #NobodysDoll hashtag, told the Guardian. “Women are expected to squeeze into tight-fitting, low-cut dresses and totter on impossible heels in order to serve the gaze of those who’ll judge whether they are marketable or not. It’s time we had different images to look up to of headstrong, unconventional women.” 

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Cannes is the most glamorous of film festivals, there’s no doubt about it. And the gorgeous pictures that come from it do make for beautiful afternoon scrolling.

But if the festival’s organisers can’t understand that glamour isn’t solely the domain of slim, able-bodied, women in gowns and towering high heels, then we have a serious problem. It’s 2019, and women should be able to wear whatever they want. 

Images: Getty

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer based in London. You can find her on the internet talking about movies, television and Chris Pine.

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