The details of a film critic facing racism at the Cannes Film Festival

Valerie Complex, Associate Editor/Writer of Deadline and host of Scene 2 view podcast, calls for increased inclusion at the Cannes Film Festival after back-to-back attendance experiences filled with racial microaggressions.

In an op-ed written last week, Complex gave insight into the multiple uncomfortable experiences she has had walking in and out of Cannes theaters and red carpets during festival screenings. After being assumed to be a ticket scalper rather than an attendee, repeatedly picked ‘at random’ for baggage checks, and having her tickets checked by several ushers when taking her seat, it became clear to Complex that his presence was more than a bit of a shock to fellow festival-goers and staff, if not a downright unwelcome presence.

Complex says she was somewhat prepared for small slights and discomfort, as she had a similar experience attending the festival as a freelancer in 2019. During one of those random bag searches this year- there, she says she was verbally assaulted by a guard over a seemingly innocuous discovery.

The details of a film critic facing racism at the Cannes Film Festival
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – NOVEMBER 14: Moderator Valerie Complex speaks onstage during Deadline’s The Contenders 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 zone with many other journalists heading for the Palace, I was the only one stopped ‘randomly’ for a bag search,” she wrote. “When the security guard found a packet of chewing gum, the man immediately started yelling at me in French. I don’t understand French, but I know how aggressive. ‘Why are you yelling?’ I asked. His attitude turned into shock – as if he was surprised that I spoke English.

Turns out gum isn’t allowed inside the theater. But the security guard’s overreaction caused an embarrassing scene and further singled Complex out from the people around who had no idea what was going on.

“Embarrassed is not the word for how I felt. People were looking at me, thinking I had committed a crime! Fly out of the grip on the gum? I wondered if he would react like that to anyone who had a packet of chewing gum in their bag.

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

“My references were constantly checked, especially during screenings at the Palais. Guards and staff put my ID in front of my face to make sure it was me, even before they scanned it,” she wrote. “I haven’t seen anyone around me treated that way.”

Complex summed it up by saying it’s high time for more inclusion and adjustments to old attitudes of exclusion at the festival.

“I can’t settle for being one of the few black journalists present. For such an important festival, the goal must be more of everyone – more fairness 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 about the injustices they see or experience there. Maybe this will light enough fire under them to do more than the bare minimum.

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