Polanski to skip French Oscars to avoid ‘public lynching’

Director accused of sexual assault announces his absence on eve of Cesar Awards, as black actors decry industry racism.

Posters with a play on words combining the word rape in French with the name of Polish-French filmmaker Roman Polanski, and reading 'Violanski, the Cesars of shame' is placarded on the headquarters of the Cesar Academy [Bertrand Guay/AFP]

French-Polish movie director Roman Polanski will not attend the Cesar Awards ceremony in Paris on Friday, amid criticism after his latest film led award nominations despite several accusations of sexual assault.

The filmmaker premiered, An Officer and a Spy, in France last year, days after a French actress accused him of having raped her in 1975 when she was 18 years old, during a ski holiday in Gstaad, Switzerland.

Polanski, 86, has denied the accusation.

“Activists are already threatening me with a public lynching”, Polanski said in a statement, adding he wanted to protect his staff and family.

Feminist groups had decried the film’s nominations at the Cesar Awards, France’s equivalent of the Oscars, and called for a boycott of the movie.

The news comes in the wake of a guilty verdict for former Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, which was a milestone for the #MeToo movement fuelled by his case starting in late 2017. He was found guilty of sexually assaulting a former production assistant and of raping a former aspiring actress.

In mid-February, the management of the Cesar Academy resigned en masse after weeks of controversy centred on Polanski and the 12 nominations for his movie.

France’s Culture Minister Franck Riester called for the academy to operate democratically and Minister for Equality Marlene Schiappa also condemned the decision to nominate Polanski’s movie.

Polanski fled the United States after pleading guilty in 1977 to having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, some of France’s top stars of colour slammed the French film industry, accusing it of confining black, North African and Asian-origin performers to stereotypical bit parts.

In an open letter on the eve of the Cesars, they lambasted the “invisibility” of minorities both in front of the camera and behind it.

The 30 signatories slammed the hypocrisy of an industry which this year invited the black American director Spike Lee to head the jury at the Cannes film festival while pushing black creators to the margins at home.

The letter, which was also signed by La Haine director Mathieu Kassovitz and arthouse favourite Olivier Assayas, said minority “actors, directors and producers were almost invisible” in France.

“Actors of colour are given insignificant parts which would never justify them getting a Cesar,” the letter complained.

The call echoes the #OscarsSoWhite movement in the US which began in 2015 and has spread noisily through social media.

Eriq Ebouaney, the star of the historical drama “Lumumba”, said that other than “a few exceptions like Omar Sy … when French actors of colour get a role it is in a film about the housing estates” in the country’s poor and restive suburbs.

Sy – best known for, The Intouchables – was absent from the list of signatories, although he had earlier demanded “profound reform” of the Cesars.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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