Controversy at the Cannes Film Festival usually has to do with the audience booing an experimental film, a director saying something outrageous, or a movie pulling a ridiculous publicity stunt. On opening night this year, there was something new grabbing attention away from the movie stars and movies. Israel’s Minister of Culture and Sports, Miri Regev, stepped onto the red carpet in a ball gown featuring a landscape of Jerusalem.
Swedish-based Israeli costume designer Aviad Arik Herman designed the dress on commission. The long-sleeve gold top appears rather conservative — mesh fabric with crystal and lace embroidery. It’s not until you reach the bottom of the white A-line skirt that the controversy occurs. Skimming the floor is a city skyline that includes the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock, and the Tower of David.
“This year we are celebrating 50 years since the liberation and reunification of Jerusalem,” Regev said in a statement, according to the Guardian. “I am proud to celebrate this historic date through art and fashion, and I am happy that this work by Israeli designer Aviad Herman is so moving and honors the beautiful status of our eternal capital Jerusalem.”
That’s not exactly a neutral statement of patriotism. Though Israel declared Jerusalem reunified after the Six-Day War in 1967, Palestinians and the United Nations call the eastern part of the city “occupied.” Regev, who is part of the right-wing Likud Party led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was there as a guest of the Israel Pavilion at the festival. After her appearance on the red carpet, many criticized her for turning a celebration of arts into a political statement.
“Her efforts to convey a political message on the backs of the attending artists, whom she abuses at every opportunity … was an aggressive, cynical and opportunistic act,” left-leaning newspaper Haaretz wrote in an opinion piece titled “Miri Regev’s Cannes Dress: Tasteless, Aggressive, and Colonialist.”
Many were critical on social media too.
— Rukiye Miletli (@RukiyeMiletli) May 18, 2017
— New Israel Fund (@NewIsraelFund) May 18, 2017
— Kyle Goen (@kyledidthis) May 18, 2017
Others took a more amusing approach to criticizing Regev, using all that white material for space on which to Photoshop other designs on the skirt. They added images of explosions, a photo of a diner, an ad for a metal band’s upcoming show, and an illustration of an imposing West Bank fence.
Herman didn’t shy away from the publicity. He posted several photos of himself with Regev on the carpet, thanking his mother and a graphic designer for their help with the project.
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