The Horror, The Horror: "On Being Black At Cannes: How Microaggressions Marred My Festival Experience"
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From Deadline:

Valerie Complex On Being Black At Cannes: How Microaggressions Marred My Festival Experience

By Valerie Complex

June 2, 2022 1:29pm

After attending the Cannes Film Festival in 2019 as a freelance film critic, I was excited to go this time as a film critic and reporter for Deadline. I knew that access would be different with a powerful platform and that my workload would double in size. Either way, I was prepared for the challenge. When walking down the Croisette on the way to the Palais de Festivals, the atmosphere wasn’t as welcoming as I’d hoped. As soon as I reached my destination, I noticed what was in store for me during that trip: microaggressions directed toward me because of my skin color.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a microaggression is a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a marginalized group (such as a racial minority).

More generally, microaggressions are the hallmark of a polite hierarchical society. British comic literature — Jane Austen, Lewis Carrol, Oscar Wilde, Evelyn Waugh, etc. — consists largely of microaggressions. There’s little more hierarchical than the Cannes Film Festival, an industry convention devoted to promoting and monetizing stardom.

Some of the incidents I experienced in 2019 Cannes fit the microaggression definition, but I’m sad to say it was worse this time.

I’ll focus here on the festival and not the city of Cannes, though the festival is a reflection of the city. Before going into detail about my experience last month, I have to first talk about what went down in 2019.

On the first day of my arrival in May 2019, I stood outside the Carlton, wearing all black. I had just picked up a screening ticket and had the envelope in my pocket. A woman approached me and asked, “Do you have tickets to sell?” I told her no, but the question kept resurfacing in my mind and bothered me all day. “What did she mean by that?” I wondered. I asked a journalist colleague of mine (a veteran of Cannes) about the incident. She explained that even though people are always hungry for tickets and will ask anyone for an extra if they see you with a ticket, many think Black people who hang around the festivities could be scalping tickets for film premieres. I was stunned to silence.

That was my experience 40 years ago attending concerts at the mid-sized Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. No matter how white the band and the audience—U2, Tom Petty, The Boomtown Rats with The Blasters, Graham Parker, Devo for heaven’s sake—there were black guys scalping tickets out front. It was a pretty efficient setup: if you needed to buy a ticket to the sold-out show, you could tell who the scalpers were because they were the guys hanging around who obviously weren’t there because they were really into KROQ bands. She should be happy the stereotype has become more inclusive at Cannes and now includes black women.

The next day after, as I entered the security area with many other journalists heading into the Palais, I was the only one “randomly” stopped for a bag search. When the security guard found a pack of gum, the man immediately began to scream at me in French. I don’t understand French, but I know aggression. “Why are you yelling?” I asked. His demeanor changed to shock — like he was surprised I spoke English. Another woman got involved and told me — calmly and respectably — not to bring gum into the Lumière theater next time. Embarrassed isn’t the word for what I was feeling. People were staring at me, thinking I had committed a crime! Flying off the handle over gum? I wondered if he’d react like that to everyone who had a pack of gum in their bag. Or just me that day?

Mame Bineta Sane

If that wasn’t humiliating enough, I ran into a moviegoer who said something shocking to me the following day. I went to an early-morning screening of Mati Diop’s Atlantics. When the film was over and I was standing outside the theater getting my bearings, an older French White woman came up to me, put her arm on my shoulder — without permission — and said, “Wow! You did such a good job, you should be proud,” and walked off. “What was that about?” I thought. After 30 minutes, it dawned on me: This woman thought I was in the movie and probably thought I was the leading actress (Mame Bineta Sane). By now, I wasn’t angry, more disappointed than anything.


Valerie Complex

As a Woman of Color, let’s all talk about how I was oppressed by being mistaken for a pretty starlet at Cannes.

It’s an important topic that everybody must think about: the resemblance between this rising star and myself.

Think about this horrible white woman who couldn’t discern my own unique personal beauty and racistly assumed I must be the lovely leading lady of the much-anticipated movie premiering at the glamorous Cannes film festival.

Granted, I do rather look like this budding goddess of the silver screen, but still, the horror, the horror…

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