Hollywood has dominated the news cycle over the past couple of weeks, as more and more women have, and still are, coming forward with stories about the industry's toxic male culture that enables everything from sexual harassment and assault to the wage gap. Hollywood has work to do when it comes to empowering women — but it would be a mistake to assume that this problem is limited to the sunny skies of California, or even the United States.
As it turns out, even cool French girls have to deal with sexism.
For a while now, I've been slightly obsessed with a French show called Call My Agent! (Dix Pour Cent). The show follows the travails and tribulations of four Parisian film agents trying to save their company from ruin all while dealing with constant actor meltdowns. I would call it the French Entourage, but that would be doing it a disservice. Because while Entourage plays into almost every awful stereotype about Hollywood, Call My Agent! highlights them in a way that calls attention without endorsing them.
Take for example, the first episode of the second, and latest season, now available to stream on Netflix. "Virginie et Ramzy," kicks off with an interview with a married actor couple — Virginie Efira and Ramzy Bedia, famous actors IRL, though their couple status is fake — who are promoting their very first movie together. They are proud to announce that one of their conditions upon making the film was that they be paid the same.
"Is that important to you?" the interviewer asks.
"It's especially important for me," Virginie replies. "Wage equality is important in all professions, but we need to move things along in our own industry."
"Two equal checks, in the same account, that way everyone's happy — even our agent." Ramzy jokes.
This would be a fairly standard press moment if it weren't for the plot twist: Ramzy actually has a secret contract that ensures him a salary bonus for an appearance on On N'est Pas Couché, basically France's equivalent of The Tonight Show, to promote the film. In the midst of another brewing scandal (I'll let you watch, and find out exactly what that one entails on your own), Virginie finds out about the wage gap within her own marriage, and all hell breaks loose.
In episode 2, Sofia Leprince, a young actress who goes in for an audition and dares to question why her character has no other descriptors than "pretty and smiling." She gets shut down by a female producer who tells her she shouldn't have to explain what it means to sleep her way to the top. (Sofia happens to be dating her agent.)
The great thing about this show, though, is that it takes sides. In the case of Ramzy's deception, he is clearly in the wrong. He should have refused his agent's suggestion of a secret contract, or at the very least, talked to his wife about it. His argument that this money is actually for both of them since they hold a shared account is bogus if he's earning it on the sly. In the case of Sofia, the offending producer gets a stool thrown at her head.
But perhaps the most interesting thing about Call My Agent! is that it also highlights the ways in which French film culture differs from our own. The pilot episode of the series deals with the negotiations around a contract for French cinema icon Cécile de France, who's up for a role in a new Tarantino movie. At the last minute, Tarantino — who, incidentally, is one of the only men to have admitted that he knew enough about Harvey Weinstein's pattern of abuse to have done something about it earlier — withdraws the offer, with the excuse that he needs a younger woman for the role. Cécile de France is 40, and I'm a little embarrassed to say that I didn't bat an eye at this revelation — of course he would want someone younger.
But not so in France, where the reaction is one of outrage. "Cecile de France is too old for a role. What's the role, a child?" one of the agents exclaims.
Later, when it's suggested by his rep that Tarantino might consider casting the actress if she were to look 30 rather than 40 — translation: if she got plastic surgery — the response is just as refreshing. Though she originally considers it — Tarantino is a huge get for a French actress looking to break into Hollywood — Cécile de France pushes back. She's not changing her face to keep up with unrealistic beauty expectations that expect women never to age. Perhaps even more amazingly, her agents support her. They applaud her decision.
France is in no way perfect, despite what all those perfect French girl myths will tell you. The country is dealing with many of the same issues we are when it comes to sexual harassment and gender equality. But the difference is that France has recently taken steps to combat its deeply ingrained culture of harassment. A law proposed in October by gender quality minister Marlène Schiappa could soon see men fined for catcalling and other public harassment.
In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, Hollywood seems to be (slowly) gearing itself up for some much needed introspection about the way women are being treated in entertainment, both behind-the-scenes and in the spotlight. But why stop there? Hotel du Cap D'Eden Roc, where many stars stay while attending the Cannes Film Festival, was the setting for many of the stories about Weinstein's alleged behaviour. Clearly, misogyny and harassment in the film industry are systemic problems that go beyond borders — why not go global in our efforts to address them?