Film Forward

How An Independent Event Is Bringing Much-Needed Diversity To The Cannes Film Festival

"I will continue my efforts until there’s a seat at the proverbial table for those who look like me."

The ways we watch TV and movies have evolved, and it's time for the talent in front of and behind the camera to do the same. Film Forward speaks on the initiatives to diversify the film industry and the stories it tells. New articles premiere every second Thursday of — and throughout — the month.

Starting this week, movie lovers around the world are turning their gaze to the Cannes Film Festival, which is celebrating its 71st year on the French Riviera. At the same time, an independent event in the city is promoting the work of diverse filmmakers — and encouraging much-needed inclusion at one of the film industry's most prestigious gatherings.

Beyond Borders: Diversity in Cannes was created in 2010 by event producer and entertainment publicist Yolonda Brinkley. The event is held every year in Cannes during the festival, and features panel discussions, networking, and a short film showcase. 


Brinkley was inspired to start the movement after her first visit to the Cannes Film Festival in 2009, having previously studied at the College International De Cannes as an undergrad at Clark Atlanta University. 

"Although I spoke the language and was familiar with the city, I felt like an outsider," Brinkley told A Plus via email. "With video camera in tow, I approached all other Black people, only to learn that many of them felt exactly the same way. At that moment, I decided that I could either never return, or do something about the lack of diversity present and the even greater lack of inclusion."

All are welcome to attend the organization's Diversity Day on Monday, May 14, at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Cannes. Attendees can RSVP on the Diversity in Cannes social media. This year's panel discussion will focus on millennials, responding to the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements with the question #WhatsNext.

"Emerging filmmakers will have a chance to discuss their strategies to ensure a safe, healthy, and equal environment for all those with whom they connect throughout their career," Brinkley told A Plus. She also shared her wish to speak with industry players such as Jordan Peele, Spike Lee, Michael B. Jordan, and Annemarie Jacir. (The symposium previously welcomed Jacir, a Palestinian filmmaker, in 2012.)

Introduced in 2013, the Short Film Showcase features six to eight films or web series made by filmmakers who are diverse in "thought, race, gender, age, religion, physical ability and sexual orientation." Awards are given in various categories, and prizes include industry consultations, social media promotion, and possible distribution. This year, there will be two showcases — Women in Formation and General Diversity.

"My ultimate goals for the Diversity in Cannes Short Film Showcase are to promote the work of underrepresented stories from marginalized populations and provide a platform to assist with their international network expansion," Brinkley explained. "Filmmakers benefit from global exposure of their films to audiences they otherwise may not reach and the subsequent relationships built in the process, which lend themselves to limitless possibilities."

Lack of diversity continues to be an issue at Cannes. As Variety reports, only 18 of the nearly 180 films to compete at the festival in the past 10 years have been directed by women. Only one film directed by a woman has ever received the prestigious Palme d'Or award (Jane Campion's The Piano in 1993), and last year, Sofia Coppola became the first woman in more than 50 years to win the Best Director award. Meanwhile, Dazed pointed out last year that not a single film by a Black director has won the Palme d'Or or the Best Director prize at the festival. 

This year, the festival made some progress in appointing a mostly female jury, headed by president Cate Blanchett and also including Kristen Stewart, Ava DuVernay, Léa Seydoux, and Khadja Nin. However, Brinkley told A Plus that she has not witnessed a significant change in the state of diversity at the festival in the years since she started attending.

"While many countries are represented, and women and people of color have been invited to participate in the festival's official programming, I've seen very little effort to ensure inclusion is woven into the fabric of the organization," Brinkley said. "Without numbers and an organization chart, I can't speak confidently about the diversity of its staff, but If I had to guess, I'd say it's lacking, and until the internal issue is addressed and resolved, the public will not see positive shifts in the state of diversity at the Cannes Film Festival."

That's why the work of Diversity in Cannes is so important. Brinkley credits her supporters, such as fellow Clark Atlanta alum Fannie Bakon, as well as Viola Davis' JuVee Productions, CBS Entertainment Diversity, and Ajuua Entertainment, with helping her in her years-long effort.

"I have been on the ground promoting diversity and inclusion at the Cannes Film Festival long before they were trending in Hollywood, long before #OscarsSoWhite, #MeToo and #TimesUp. Beyond Borders: Diversity in Cannes is my contribution to the plight of marginalized populations globally," Brinkley said, adding, "I will continue my efforts until there's a seat at the proverbial table for those who look like me and all other underrepresented groups!"

You can learn more about Diversity in Cannes by visiting its website, or by following it on Twitter.

Cover image: Twocoms /


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