Director accused of sexual assault announces his absence on eve of Cesar Awards, as black actors decry industry racism.
Roman Polanski was awarded the prize for best director for the film An Officer and a Spy at a fractious French Film Academy ceremony in Paris early on Saturday, prompting a walkout by several women in the audience.
The entire board of the Cesar Awards had been forced to resign earlier this month amid fury at Polanski – wanted in the United States for the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl in 1977 – topping the list of nominations.
Actress Adele Haenel, who recently alleged she had been sexually assaulted from the age of 12 to 15 by another French director in the early 2000s, got up and walked out of the room, followed by others.
“Distinguishing Polanski is spitting in the face of all victims. It means raping women isn’t that bad,” Haenel told the New York Times earlier this week.
In addition to a no-show by Polanski, the film’s cast and production team, including best actor nominee Jean Dujardin, did not attend the ceremony.
Dujardin posted a message on Instagram that said, “By making this film, I believed and I still believe I made more good than harm.”
Polanski’s film won two other awards for best costume design and best adaptation. No one came on stage to accept the trophies.
The show’s host, comedian Florence Foresti, left An Officer and a Spy out of her opening remarks when she mentioned the films with multiple nominations.
Instead, Foresti referred to the 86-year-old director as “Atchoum,” the French name for Sneezy in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
“What do we do with Atchoum? We applaud? We don’t applaud?” she said.
The Cesar for best film has been awarded to Les Miserables – Ladj Ly’s Oscar candidate – about tensions between police and minorities in a poor Paris suburb. The film won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival last year.
The entire male-dominated leadership of the Cesar stepped down recently amid disagreement about its decision-making structure and how to deal with the Polanski problem.
Hundreds of protesters brandishing signs with proclaiming, “Victims, we believe you” and “No to impunity” assembled outside the Salle Pleyel before the ceremony started. The group chanted, “We are here, we are here, even if Polanski doesn’t want to, we are here.”
“By supporting the aggressors, by celebrating the aggressors, one does not allow the victims to speak out. Their word is denied,” Celine Piques of women’s activist group Osez le Feminisme said.
In a statement this week, the Paris-based Polanski said the ceremony was turning into a “public lynching” and that he decided not to attend the ceremony to protect his colleagues and his wife and children.
Polanski is still wanted in the US, decades after he was charged with raping a 13-year-old girl in 1977. He pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor but fled the country on the eve of sentencing.
Last year, a woman came forward to accuse Polanski of raping her in 1975 in his Swiss chalet when she was 18. Polanski denied it, and the allegations were too far in the past for an investigation.
But the accusation put the director under fresh scrutiny in France, where he has long been revered as one of the country’s premier filmmakers despite the outstanding rape charge in the US. Other accusations have also emerged.