Film Critic Details Facing Racism At Cannes Film Festival

Valerie Complex, the associate editor/film writer at Deadline and host of the Scene 2 Seen podcast, is calling for increased inclusion at the Cannes Film Festival after back-to-back attendance experiences packed with racial microaggressions.

In an op-ed penned last week, Complex gave a rundown of multiple uncomfortable experiences she had while entering and exiting Cannes theaters and red carpets during festival screenings. After being assumed to be a ticket scalper rather than an attendee, repeatedly “randomly” chosen for bag checks, and having her tickets checked by multiple ushers when taking her seat, it became clear to Complex that her presence was more than a bit of a shock to other festival-goers and staff, if not an outrightly unwelcome presence.

Complex says she was somewhat prepared for the small affronts and discomfort, as she had a similar experience when attending the festival as a freelancer in 2019. During one such random bag search that year, she says she was verbally attacked by a guard over a seemingly innocuous discovery.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – NOVEMBER 14: Moderator Valerie Complex speaks onstage during Deadline’s The Contenders Film at DGA Theater Complex on November 14, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for Deadline)

“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,” she wrote. “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.”

As it turns out, gum is not permitted inside the theater. But the security guard’s overreaction caused an embarrassing scene and further singled Complex out to people around that had no idea what was going on.

“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.”

Fast forward to 2022, and Complex faced more of the same treatment. At every turn, security guards, ushers, and other guests second-guessed if she truly belonged in the room, and made it clear that her presence was out-of-place.

“The scrutiny of my credentials was constant, especially at screenings in the Palais. Guards and personnel would put my ID up to my face to ensure it was me, even before scanning it,” she wrote. “I didn’t see anyone around me treated this way.”

Complex summed it up by saying that it’s beyond time for more inclusion and adjustments of old exclusionary attitudes at the festival.

“I can’t be satisfied with just being one of the few Black journalists in attendance. For such an important festival, the goal must be for more of everyone — more equity for those who make films and those who cover them,” she wrote. “I write this hoping that those of us on the margins will feel compelled to speak out against injustices they see or experience there. Maybe that will light enough of a fire under them to do more than the bare minimum.”


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