As France’s César Awards call ‘Action!’ on new era, women rally for Polanski ouster

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Feminist groups in France on Tuesday staged a virtual protest slamming the board of the César Academy, known as the French Oscars, over director Roman Polanski’s continuing role at France’s flagship cinema academy. 

The César board elects a new presidency on Tuesday, months after a high-profile implosion saw the entirety of its leadership step down two weeks before the 2020 César ceremony, largely over a controversy spurred by plaudits for Polanski.

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The new presidential pair – a man and a woman, in keeping with the new gender equity effort borne of that crisis – will be tasked with shepherding the ongoing revamp of an institution criticised for lacking transparency and diversity.

Longtime audiovisual executive Véronique Cayla, 70, and “Intouchables” director Eric Toledano, 49, will take the helm on Tuesday in a vote via video link, due to coronavirus restrictions. The ballot is a short one: The duo were the only candidates to put their names forward for the job.

Véronique Cayla, the former president of French-German TV channel Arte (left) and French cinema director Éric Toledano (right) have been nominated to jointly head up the prestigious French César Academy, which each year awards the most prestigious French cinema prizes. © Eric Piermont, Valerie Macon, AFP

But with Polanski still in the wings, feminist groups are far from satisfied with the body’s renewal efforts. The French director, who is still wanted in the United States over the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl in 1977, remains a member of the French academy and one of 182 named in September to a new slate of administrators on the strength of his 2003 Oscar win for “The Pianist”. The filmmaker announced Friday that he would not take part in César decision-making but the director’s recusal does not appear to have tempered the resistance.

Rewind to February, when the César Academy was lambasted for nominating Polanski’s film “J’Accuse” (“An Officer and a Spy”) for the most prizes ahead of the 2020 award ceremony. Publicity for the 2019 film had been halted after photographer Valentine Monnier claimed Polanski raped her in 1975 when she was 18, but the movie was still a box-office hit in France. The spectre of Polanski earning César applause amid overlapping sexual assault controversies in the #MeToo era sparked outrage among women’s groups and criticism from France’s minister for equality, but the César institution held its ground. Then, just two weeks before the February 28 gala, the academy’s entire leadership stepped down, largely over the Polanski scandal.

The ceremony went ahead, with Polanski’s film ultimately taking home three statuettes, including Best Director, prompting malaise in the theatre on the night. Actress Adèle Haenel famously stood and walked out in disgust, declaring, “Bravo, paedophilia!”

Cut to seven months later. Kept from assembling, as planned, on Tuesday morning at the Balzac cinema near the Champs-Élysées amid new stricter coronavirus measures in Paris, activists gathered online to signal their contempt for the César board under the hashtag #ClapDeFinPolanski (“Polanski final cut”).

“Twelve rape and assault accusations including several against minors. But the César Academy keeps Roman Polanski as a member. Shame on you who contribute to allowing sexist and sexual violence to endure. Change the script, change the casting,” Nous Toutes (“All of us women”) tweeted Tuesday.

“To celebrate an abuser is to participate in his impunity and to silence all of the victims. Let’s listen to the victims!” declared the group Osez le Feminisme (“Dare to be feminist”) as it issued a call to arms: “The General Assembly of the Césars is meeting today with Polanski as a historic member for life. You’re outraged: Make some noise by posting videos explaining why?”

On Arrête Toutes, a group calling for a feminist walkout on International Women’s Day next March 8, asked, “How much longer will this sinister individual keep sitting on the César Academy? Choose heroines of the struggle against violence against women and not rapists!”

Suzy Rojtman, spokesperson for the National Collective for Women’s Rights, contributed, “Considering a rapist as a ‘historic member’, what a shame!!!!!!!”

The #clapdefinpolanski hashtag was among Twitter’s top trends in Paris and in France on Tuesday, suggesting the new chiefs have their work cut out to remake César’s image.

 

 

 

 


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