Last Sunday at the Cannes Film Festival in France, Indigenous film producer Kelvin Redvers (Dene) was denied entry to the red carpet because he was wearing traditional moccasins. The Vancouver-based Redvers wanted to use the opportunity to highlight and celebrate his own Indigenous culture by wearing a pair of traditional moccasins “I was hoping to wear an example of something that would be formal for my culture, which was a beautiful pair of moccasins that were actually beaded by my sister,” Redvers told Variety. Before he could do so, however, security stopped him from entering and asked him to leave until he changed into “regular” dress shoes.
Redvers says he was made to feel like a criminal for wearing moccasins, which is an aboriginal-style shoe made of moose hide and embellished with beautiful beadwork. It’s not the first time the festival has turned away guests for not adhering to the event’s infamously strict formal dress code. In addition to enforcing a black tie dress code, the festival scrutinizes footwear choices—at one point it turned away any woman who wore flats instead of heels. Though that rule has loosened up after A-list stars like Julia Roberts and Kristen Stewart protested by going barefoot on the carpet—the festival’s strict shoe rules evidently still apply to cultural wear. It’s an approach that seems outdated at best and discriminatory at worst. (The festival has since apologized to Redvers.)
After being turned away on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival, Redvers’s French-speaking colleague reportedly tried to argue that the Cannes dress code should have exceptions for cultural pieces. But security didn’t budge and they actually got quite aggressive with the producer. “A fairly aggressive security guard got fed up, got right in my face and said, ‘You need to leave now. Leave now. Leave now. Leave now. Leave!’” Redvers told Variety. “I was very confused and hurt; I felt belittled.” Only once he changed his shoes did he return to the red carpet.
The Cannes Film Festival’s declaration that moccasins are not formal enough is ironic given that the shoes are in fact a special-occasion piece within Indigenous culture. The exact date of their inception is hard to pinpoint, but numerous tribes across North America created and designed them before colonization. Today, they are widely known as a soft-soled style—often embellished with beadwork, quillwork, or embroidery—that can be worn as house slippers. Although moccasins are mainly used at powwows by dancers who wear traditional regalia, they are also popularly worn as house shoes. Within the Indigenous community, moccasins are often given as gifts; they hold sacred meaning and are believed to bring good luck to their wearer.
After the premiere of his film, The Grizzlies, Redvers told Variety that on the day following its debut, high-level members of the Cannes Film Festival team—including François Desrousseaux, the festival’s secretary general and head of the red carpet—reportedly met with Redvers and apologized for the incident. Redvers and other members of the Indigenous Screen Office, who funded Redvers’s trip to the festival, reportedly had “productive and open conversation” with the Cannes team around how they should rethink what “formal” means on the carpet. Redvers wonders if things would have been different if he weren’t wearing a tuxedo with the moccasins, telling Variety, “If I’d been wearing the full regalia [ceremonial clothing], they would have put me through [let him enter], which is interesting because it really limits formal wear into a preconceived idea—and a Western idea—of what formal wear should be.”