“Anora” Palme d’Or: who is Sean Baker, the director who breaks prejudices about sex workers?

“Anora” Palme d’Or: who is Sean Baker, the director who breaks prejudices about sex workers?
“Anora” Palme d’Or: who is Sean Baker, the director who breaks prejudices about sex workers?

American filmmaker Sean Baker, 53, won the Palme d’Or at the 77th Cannes Film Festival.

An independent author whose most of his films explore the world of sex workers.

Portrait of a maverick who refuses the codes of Hollywood blockbusters.

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His rebellious locks give him the look of an eternal teenager. Winner of the Palme d’Or 2024 with Anora, Sean Baker, 53, is what we call a “maverick” of American independent cinema, at a time when the studios have turned their backs on him. Son of a lawyer and a teacher from New Jersey, it was far from Hollywood that he forged his love of cinema and his career.

In his early days, Baker did a series of small productions filmed for a handful of dollars. Before breaking through in 2012 with Starlett, the unexpected friendship between a lost kid and a lonely octogenarian. Endearing characters, a realistic approach and a touch of permanent humor… This slice of life exposes an ordinary America at a time when superheroes are occupying the screens.

I wanted Anora to properly represent a young sex worker today in New York City

Sean Baker

With Tangerine, his next film, Sean Baker portrays two transgender African-American prostitutes in California. Filmed on a smartphone, it seduces with its skin-deep realism, the result of extensive research with sex workers. A universe that he will continue to explore with The Florida Project, the story of a stripper who raises her two toddlers as best she can. Then Red Rocketwhere a male porn actor tries to rebuild his life.

I became friends with many sex workers and realized there were a million stories to tell in their world“, he explained in Cannes at the beginning of the week during the press conference of Anora. “If there’s one intention with all of these films, it’s to tell human stories, stories that are hopefully universal. And to eliminate the stigma that weighs on this livelihood.”

Sean Baker and Mikey Madison Cannes on May 22 in Cannes. – AFP

Palme d’Or of the 77th Cannes Film Festival, Anora was nourished by reading Modern Whore, a book by Andrea Werhun, a former sex worker hired as a consultant on the film. “I wanted Anora to properly represent a young sex worker today in New York City“, underlined the filmmaker. “One of the themes I wanted to explore was that of power. Anora has power. She is aware of it. She’s in control, even when the world around her is falling apart“.

The film benefits from the luminous performance of Mikey Madison, a young actress for whom Sean Baker dreamed of writing. “We met, I suggested that we work together and she accepted. I asked him to give me three months to write a script… and it took me a year! Subsequently, she contributed a lot to the character’s development“, he added about this young woman who marries the son of a Russian oligarch, at her own risk.

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At Cannes, critics quickly compared the structure of the film to that of Pretty Woman, in a more raw and dark version. “I grew up in the 1980sPretty Woman had an influence on me, even if unconsciously“, admitted the filmmaker. “But even if I use the codes of romantic comedy, it was important to anchor it in a reality that Hollywood would not exactly be able to show.” We won’t say the opposite.


Jérôme VERMELIN in Cannes

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