Without a word, Palestine dominated conversation at Cannes

Stars hit the red carpet to silently show solidarity as the Israel-Gaza war reaches a humanitarian crisis point

Un Certain Regard jury member Asmae El Moudir reveals the Palestinian flag on the palm of her glove at the Cannes Film Festival closing ceremony. Reuters
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The 77th Cannes Film Festival concluded at the weekend, and while Palestine may not have been on the lips of most of those in attendance, quiet resistance was seemingly everywhere.

As the two-week event progressed, stars and filmmakers from the region and around the world made silent statements of solidarity, particularly on the red carpet.

Palestinian-American model Bella Hadid wore a red dress inspired by the keffiyeh. Indian actress Kani Kusruti, of the award-winning film All We Imagine as Light, held a watermelon-shaped purse in the colours of the Palestinian flag. Australian actor Guy Pearce wore a bracelet embroidered with the same colours, along with a pin of the Palestinian flag on his lapel, the latter reportedly edited out of published photos by Vanity Fair France.

Even Oscar-shortlisted director Asmae El Moudir, a jury member for the festival’s Un Certain Regard programme, sewed the Palestinian flag into the palm of her glove for the closing ceremony.

As another jury member, the renowned director and star Nadine Labaki, said at a press conference during the festival: “Cultural resistance prevails.”

The power of those images is palpable. Even after the festival has ended, they continue to circulate across the world, shared and reshared by the many of us who yearn for public declarations for peace as the devastation in Gaza has reached previously unthinkable levels.

It is a testament to the enduring power of films and those who make them, and the significance of culture especially in moments of crisis.

Over the past two weeks, when I privately spoke to many in attendance, including actors, filmmakers, producers and jury members, their reasons for speaking out were myriad.

The festival itself set the tone from the outset. Cannes general delegate Thierry Fremaux, as my colleague Razmig Bedirian noted last week, stated his intention that the festival this year should be “without polemics”.

Protests were made illegal last year by the city's government, and security was increased this year. And while there was no outright censorship of Palestine in particular, the message that many interpreted was to keep silent on the issue.

For context, while glitz and glamour may be part of the reason for Cannes' international appeal, the industry is currently in a quiet crisis of its own. Last year's strike left many out of work, and even when it ended, everything did not go back to normal exactly, especially for those not at the top end of the industry.

Studios, streamers and independent production houses are privately being more careful about the projects they move forward with. The landscape for film continues to change, making a project's success far from a sure thing.

At Cannes, most projects are independently produced, and the talent is at the festival, in part, to search for international buyers. A controversial comment to the press could take attention away from a project, potentially leaving a years-long journey dead on arrival. And it is not only their own livelihoods they would be risking, it is those of others.

Even with that in mind, for many, the crisis in Gaza is too massive an issue to ignore, and any form of protest for peace might help save lives. That is why it was so heartening to see many attendees potentially risking their livelihoods by silently showing solidarity on the red carpet.

It also illustrates that one act of bravery inspires others. After Cate Blanchett's dress was interpreted as a symbol of Palestinian resistance, many followed.

It shows that in even the most restrictive of circumstances, goodness prevails, and it is virtually impossible to get people who care about the value of human life to stop talking about Palestine.

Nor will they, until freedom prevails.

Published: May 28, 2024, 2:46 PM