Michelle Yeoh Celebrated at the Kering Women in Motion Gala

When Michelle Yeoh won the best actress Oscar earlier this year, she said a few short — and instantly legendary — words.

Taking the Women in Motion prize Sunday night, Yeoh gave an emotional, inspiring talk that encompassed the history of art, her passion for building cross-cultural bridges and unleashing women’s creativity. It was a moment when she could share more than just soundbites, and there was no orchestra to play her off.

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“Art moves like water, capable of causing great beauty, great terror and great change. I have watched the currents throughout my entire career and I am watching the tides turn now. For too long, we as women have been left out of rooms and conversations. We have been told the door is closed to us. Well, Virginia Woolf once said, ‘There is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind,’” she said.

“Our ideas are endless, our passion is infinite, and we have come to knock that door down,” she added, as the crowd of Cannes luminaries erupted in cheers.

Yeoh added that her characters have taught her lessons about life. “About how I would like to move through the world with integrity, with perseverance and above all with fierce compassion. They have also taught me that we need not fight alone,” she added.

She cited the women whom she has worked alongside as boosting her, as well as those she doesn’t know who are fighting to get their voices heard.

“I carry them with me everywhere I go, and I stand here for all who are still to come. For every little girl with big dreams, for the young woman paving her way, for every woman my age breaking out of every box she had been placed in. I am holding the door open for you. We will never let it be closed again.”

Cue a standing ovation from festival jury members Ruben Östlund, Brie Larson and Paul Dano, and a crowd including Leonardo DiCaprio, Isabelle Huppert and Naomi Campbell.

Kering’s Women in Motion award was started eight years ago, and the French luxury group’s chairman and chief executive officer François-Henri Pinault said he never imagined it would grow this big, but there are still challenges to overcome.

“I have the impression that things are moving, with women directors in the festival, women actresses in the big roles in big productions, but there are a lot of stereotypes also. So there is a lot more work to be done,” Pinault told WWD.

But Pinault wanted to take a moment’s pause in the middle of a festival that has been bursting at the seams with gala premieres and brand events. “For once it’s taking the time to celebrate and not just pointing out what is wrong. It’s also important to celebrate amazing women.”

He was standing in the garden of the Musée de la Castre in Cannes, flanked by Francesca Bellettini, the CEO of Saint Laurent and head of its new film production arm, Saint Laurent Productions.

The brand’s approach to getting involved in film production has been the buzz of the festival, and Bellettini said that it is less a way to control a marketing message than a celebration of creativity. “It’s a way for [Saint Laurent designer Anthony Vaccarello] to give a platform to other creative people. It’s a new way of collaborating,” she said.

“The way we build our brands is that we see them as cultural institutions, so we are part and we have a voice in the cultural environment. This initiative was to start a dialogue with other creative minds,” Pinault said.

Pinault said Bellettini is an example of a Woman in Motion, creating the production arm and taking the company in a new direction. He praised her efforts. “With every great artistic director, behind them has always been amazing women,” he said.

Speaking before the ceremony, Yeoh added that there are several glass ceilings still to break. Age, as she noted in her Oscars speech, is a new frontier. “To be told that once you get past a certain age you are not good for anything else, that’s ridiculous,” she told WWD.

“Change has been a long time coming. Many actresses before me should have been recognized and should have been seen. I’m just very, very lucky that it happened to be me, but I hope this actually proves that change is happening,” she said.

Yeoh had changed into a structural sequined Balenciaga column, with stunning Boucheron jewels. She had also worn the Kering-owned brand on the red carpet earlier in the evening, dressed in an emerald green silk taffeta gown.

Östlund, the president of this year’s jury, faced the cameras, shouting photographers and a sea of smartphones with aplomb, but is encouraging people to rethink their relationship with those black mirrors.

“Images are really changing the way that we behave and how we look at the world. I think it’s very important to reflect on what we are watching,” he told WWD. He wants people to stop the endless scroll, he said.

So he’s not on TikTok, which the festival has partnered with? “No, no, I do have other social media but I won’t say which ones, I don’t want to give them any publicity,” he said.

Still, the cameras were up and on inside, where guests snapped photos. Even DiCaprio posed for selfies with some starstruck guests, while Larson joked that she “didn’t want to start a thing” and demurred.

Cannes Film Festival artistic director Thierry Fremaux addressed DiCaprio from the stage. “It’s a way to ask you again if you will be on the jury,” he said, to laughs from the audience. “It’s like when I asked Bruce Springsteen to be on the jury. He said yes, but he never said when.”

Larson and Östlund remained in an animated discussion throughout dinner — if they were discussing any of the 21 films they are seeing over these two weeks, or just the choice of beef and cheese cannoli as an appetizer, the din of the room was too loud to tell.

But the room erupted in song — not just once, but twice — belting out the tune “Happy Birthday” to Naomi Campbell, who blew out candles as she kept her sunglasses on. It was a celebratory night for powerful women in all genres.

Launch Gallery: Inside the Kering 2023 Women In Motion Gala in Cannes

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