Jury President of the 77th Venice Film festival, Australian-US actress Cate Blanchett delivers a speech during the opening ceremony on the opening day of the 77th Venice Film Festival, on September 2, 2020 at Venice Lido, during the COVID-19 infection, caused by the novel coronavirus. (AFP/Alberto Pizzoli)
Hollywood star Cate Blanchett said Wednesday that she would rather be called an actor than an actress.
The Australian, who is heading the jury at the Venice film festival, gave her backing to Berlin festival's controversial decision last week to do away with gendered prizes and only give a best actor award.
"I have always referred to myself as an actor," Blanchett said after being asked about the move towards gender-neutral prizes hours before the 10-day COVID-restricted Venice jamboree began.
"I am of the generation where the word actress was used almost always in a pejorative sense. So I claim the other space," she told AFP.
As if to prove the point, she asked reporters if there was a female equivalent of the Italian word "maestro", only to be told their wasn't.
Blanchett is taking the helm at Venice -- once slammed by feminists for the "toxic masculinity" of its selection -- in a year when the number of women directors vying for the top prize has quadrupled to eight.
"I think a good performance is a good performance no matter the sexual orientation of who is making them," she told reporters.
Venice was heavily criticized for selecting only one female film-maker to compete for the Golden Lion in 2017 and 2018.
Got husband's 'permission'
And there was still greater fury last year when Roman Polanski -- wanted in the US for the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl in 1977 -- was selected and then went on to win the festival's second prize for his historical drama, "An Officer and a Spy".
But in the run-up to festival -- the first major film gathering since the coronavirus struck -- Oscar-winner Blanchett told Variety the record eight women directors this year was "a direct response to the positive advances that have been made".
The 51-year-old has become a major player in Hollywood gender politics since the #MeToo movement sparked by the Harvey Weinstein scandal.
She led a red-carpet protest for equality by an army of female stars and directors at the rival Cannes film festival two years ago.
The "Carol" and "Elizabeth" star has also been a prominent supporter of the Time's Up and #50/50 movements for gender parity and against sexual harassment in the industry in the wake of Weinstein's disgrace.
Veteran French director Claire Denis, who is heading the jury for Venice's "Horizons" sidebar competition, said the limits of gendered prizes were clear when you have to "give a prize to someone who has played the role of a man or a woman and who is transgender."
'Talking to chickens'
But some stereotypes are slow to die. Blanchett was asked at one stage during the news conference before the festival's opening gala whether she had asked her husband if she could go to Venice, given the risk of a second wave of COVID.
"My husband said I had permission to leave," the actor replied dryly. "My children not so much."
She also made a thinly-veiled attack on US President Donald Trump for cutting funding to the WHO as the pandemic began to rage.
"I find it bizarre that the World Health Organization is not being allowed to lead this global challenge. We are a very strange species that we didn't learn from Italy... and other countries who were first hit.
"We behave in quite obtuse and destructive ways which is not particularly helpful."
The star, who spent the lockdown on her farm in southern England with her family, said that "it was very exciting to be having conversations with adults" now she was free.
"I have been talking with chickens and pigs the last few months."
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