Cannes Diary: The Content Creators Have Conquered the Croisette

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On a sun-drenched patio along the Croisette, a TV crew is interviewing Khaby Lame while more reporters wait for his time in an adjoining suite. After an appearance two nights before on the Top Gun: Maverick red carpet, Lame has just been named one of the best dressed men of the festival by GQ France while wearing a suit made by his sponsor, Boss. He has also weighed in as a festival juror and collected an award with his agency, the Iron Corporation, which he proudly places on a side table.

It all sounds like standard hot-young-star treatment at Cannes, but Lame, 22, is not the lead of an anticipated film premiering here — he is a Senegalese-Italian TikTok personality with more than 138 million followers on the app, making him the most followed person in Europe and second globally only to Charli D’Amelio.

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Lame, a former factory worker, built his following quickly with simple videos reacting to some of the platform’s absurdly complicated life-hack trends. Now, with TikTok a sponsor of Cannes, he is an ambassador of sorts, between the young audiences, who largely choose to watch short social media videos on their phones over going to movie theaters, and the film industry establishment that is desperately trying to lure those young viewers back.

For years, Cannes has held social media at arm’s length. The festival still frowns on red carpet selfies, but organizers have begun to acknowledge that the world is changing, and welcoming stars like Lame to the Palais red carpet is a first step.

“I’m convinced this strategy will help attract the younger generation,” Lame says, speaking in Italian with translation help from a member of his management team. “It will give them the opportunity to aspire to work in the film industry.” That’s Lame’s goal too, and he’s currently taking classes in English and acting in order to get there. “My final objective is to work in the movie industry,” he says, “as an actor and behind the camera.”

The partnership between Cannes and the Chinese-owned social media company has not been entirely smooth during this year’s festival. On Thursday, French-Cambodian auteur Rithy Panh, who is serving as president of a jury judging TikTok videos, briefly resigned, saying TikTok executives were attempting to interfere in his jury’s choices. Within hours, TikTok appeared to capitulate, and Panh was back aboard. Lame, who also serves on that jury, says he was allowed to make his own choices and lifts his phone to show the notes he took on the more than 100 short movies he had watched.

About 30 minutes down the coast from Lame on the Croisette, in a stunning, futuristic home once owned by Pierre Cardin called the Palais Bulles (Bubble Palace) and currently rented by Meta, 23-year-old Algerian-born French influencer Riadh Belaïche is having his own Cannes moment. Meta has remade the space as its “Instagram Creator Villa,” where content makers like Belaïche can demo the company’s hardware, like its Quest 2 VR headset and Ray-Ban Stories smart glasses, sip free drinks, listen to DJ sets, pick up swag and, of course, strike a pose for the ’gram in the picturesque space.

Meta has brought some of its executives and creators to Cannes in the past, but never had a grand space like this one. “We were eager to be here physically,” says Edouard Braud, the social media company’s director of creative partnerships for Southern, Central and Eastern Europe. “To enable more of our emerging creators to join in and get some visibility.”

To Braud, Cannes’ partnership with companies like TikTok and rising digital media start-up Brut has made a noticeable impact on the festival’s digital footprint. “The recent decisions are demonstrating that [Cannes] understands that something is happening,” Braud says. “There is much more digital content about the festival than ever before.”

Belaïche, who has 4.3 million followers on Instagram and 5.9 million on TikTok, came to Cannes for the first time last year and was spotted on the red carpet by a French filmmaker. Now he’s been cast in a feature film, Sugar and Stars, based on the memoir of French pastry chef Yazid Ichemrahen, to be released in France by BAC Films.

“This is the dream of any creator when you start,” Belaïche says. On his Instagram, he shared a picture of himself on the Palais red carpet this year. The caption: “La vie est belle.” (“Life is beautiful.”)

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