Jane Fonda Talks About Finding Hope in Activism

Jane Fonda has been a force in the film industry for six decades, and this year brought her powerful voice to the Cannes Film Festival to pay tribute to women directors.

The longtime L’Oréal spokesperson attended the company’s Lights on Women award ceremony, which honored a director from the festival’s short and student films. A day later she took to the stage at the closing ceremony to give the coveted Palme d’Or to director Justine Triet, only the third woman to take the top prize in the festival’s history.

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Fonda noted that the film industry is slowly changing and it’s more than just director-deep, with women in positions throughout the crew. “When I started out, maybe the script supervisor would be a woman, and that was it. You were all by yourself. But now, there are many women in all kinds of roles. You don’t feel so lonely,” she tells WWD.

The three-year-old Lights on Women award is fairly new to the festival. “I’m very proud of L’Oréal for doing it. It’s a wonderful addition to what they are doing for women, showcasing directors.”

Fonda believes the ageism in the industry is also starting to change, albeit slowly, in part because it helps the bottom line. “It’s smart because older women are the fastest-growing demographic in the world. And so it’s a smart business to make movies that speak to women,” she says. That’s true in Hollywood, and the beauty business.

The Hollywood veteran said women would often form friendships and support one another in the industry, but the media preferred to frame it as a catfight to grab headlines.

“The media and popular opinion sort of created this myth that women were kept fighting all the time and competing. Not that there isn’t that, but women have always made good friendships.” She contrasts female friendships as deeper than male friendships, and says she’s always found strength in those connections.

“Men’s friendships [are] two men sitting side by side looking out at sports, cars, women. Women sit face to face. Even if they’ve been apart for a long time, they go to the soul. We really touch base with each other,” she says. “Women aren’t afraid to say, ‘Something’s happening with me, give me a hug.’ We’re not afraid of asking for help.

“That gives us great strength. I feel very bad that men don’t have that, and the reason they don’t have that is because the culture tells them, ‘Men don’t ask for help,’” she says. “It’s a strength that women have.”

Her latest projects — the hit Netflix show “Grace and Frankie” with Lily Tomlin and the popular “Book Club” film and its sequel, costarring Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen — have been all about the power of female bonds. But those projects will be her last — at least for a while. She’s starting a new chapter dedicated to political work.

While activism has always been a part of her life, Fonda will spend the next years working solely on climate change.

After spending months protesting in Washington, D.C. — and getting arrested multiple times to focus media attention on the issue — Fonda started her own political action committee, the Jane Fonda Climate PAC. Natalie Portman is an adviser.

The PAC’s aim is to elect politicians who are “climate champions,” and who do not take money from the fossil fuel industry.

“Human beings are miraculous. And the fact that we’re so brilliant has made it possible for us to destroy everything, Then greed comes along, and it’s killing us,” she says.

Fonda highlights the climate science numbers that in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), we need to start cutting global fossil fuel emissions in half by 2030.

She’s forceful and detailed when speaking about the science, noting that the world is closing in on tipping points where ecosystems begin to collapse. Once those cycles start, it will be too late to reverse.

Fonda notes that much of the political leadership — and the burden of global heating — comes back to women. “When there are climate catastrophes, women are the last to be rescued. Women are hit hardest by the climate crisis, especially in the global south, where women are responsible for planting crops, harvesting them, getting the water, getting the wood,” she says, noting these activities are becoming more difficult with drought and deforestation.

Women have taken leadership in environmental fights all over the world, she says, citing the fight against plastic in Kenya as one example. “It’s always the women and girls that are leading the way,” she says.

Fonda says she has hope in the next generation, citing a quote from activist Greta Thunberg. “’Don’t go looking for hope. Look for action and the hope will come.’ I think that’s beautiful and I have personally found that to be true,” she says. “My depression evaporated, and I became more and more hopeful because I was active.”

She found the action — and the hope — in her PAC and does not see any acting projects in the near future. “My manager is over there, and she’s not thrilled,” Fonda jokes. “But, you know, it’s what we need to do.”

The 85-year-old L’Oréal spokesperson says her biggest beauty secret is sleep — nine hours a night, she recommends — and keeping that spark of hope alive through activism, adding: “I have energy and passion for what I’m doing.”

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