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Cannes Flashback: Jury President Olivia de Havilland Was a Pioneer (In More Ways Than One)

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Change was afoot in 1965. The U.S. Congress enacted the Voting Rights Act, prohibiting racial discrimination in voting, and labor unions had the support of 71 percent of Americans (a peak that wasn’t reached again until 2022). 

It was also the year that a hero in the history of Hollywood labor, actress Olivia de Havilland, served as the first female jury president of the Festival de Cannes — the sole woman on that year’s panel. She and her fellow jurors awarded the top prize to British comedy The Knack … And How to Get It, which captured Swinging London culture (and marked the big-screen debut of Jane Birkin).

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In 1943, de Havilland transformed Hollywood when she sued Warner Bros., which, like other studios, maintained that a performer’s contract should be regarded as suspended on any day that a performer wasn’t working or was being loaned out to another studio. That led to the de facto extension of contracts well beyond California’s legal maximum of seven years. In 1944, the California Second District Court of Appeal ruled in de Havilland’s favor, declaring that such contracts could not be enforced beyond seven calendar years. The resulting “De Havilland Law” changed the industry forever, expanding performers’ creative freedom and shifting power to talent agencies. 

This year — during a time of historic labor activity — Greta Gerwig will become only the second American woman to head the Cannes jury. Gerwig, whose Barbie was the highest-grossing film of 2023 and the 14th highest-grossing picture of all time, will be the 12th female president since the festival’s inception in 1939, and the second female director to hold the position. Jane Campion was the first, in 2014.

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Hollywood Reporter Original Article

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