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Roman Polanski wins Best Director at ‘French Oscars’, sparking outrage and walkouts

Paris, France – The Polanski case continues to divide France’s cultural scene and public opinion as the award-winning filmmaker wins Best Director at the French Césars ceremony.

Roman Polanski wins Best Director at France’s 2020 Césars ceremony

Nominated in 12 categories for his latest movie An Officer and a Spy (J’accuse in its original version, based on the late 19th-century Dreyfus affair), French-Polish filmmaker Roman Polanski, who has been accused of sexual assault by a number of women, won Best Director in a 2020 Césars ceremony marred in controversy.

The César Academy, the French equivalent of the U.S. Academy Awards, nominated Polanski’s latest film in 12 categories only a short time after photographer Valentine Monnier accused the award-winning director of having raped her in Switzerland in 1975 when she was 18 years old.

Public outrage and calls for boycott from feminist organizations forced the entire board of directors of the prestigious movie award to resign en masse in mid-February, throwing the entire 2020 ceremony into turmoil and uncertainty.

Polanski win triggers walkouts and outside protests

Along with winning the César for Best Adaptation and Best Costumes, the announcement of Polanski receiving the Best Director award expectedly prompted further outrage. Several women, including actress Adèle Haenel – who recently said she was sexually abused by another director – immediately walked out of the high-profile event in Paris.

“Distinguishing Polanski is spitting in the face of all victims. It means raping women isn’t that bad”, she told New York Times reporters in a recent interview where she criticized France for having “missed the boat” on the MeToo movement and of confusing “libertine behaviour” with “sexual abuse”.

Accompanied by booing in parts of the audience, the announcement prompted the two actors who presented the award to leave the stage quickly. A group of protesters also demonstrated outside of the building during the event.

A special meeting is due to take place shortly after last week’s ceremony to elect a new board for the Césars amid growing calls, from activists but also politicians and government officials, to modernize and reform the institution.

Polanski himself did not attend the ceremony, issuing a statement ahead of the event saying that since “activists are already threatening me with a public lynching”, he would not participate to protect the safety of his staff, his family and himself. “This promises to look more like a symposium than a celebration of cinema designed to reward its greatest talents”, he added.

Polanski affair divides public opinion

Polanski’s entire staff, cast and production team did not attend the ceremony either after Culture Minister Franck Riester slammed the Academy’s nominations, arguing the success of a director under sexual abuse allegations would send the wrong signal in the MeToo era. France’s Minister for Gender Equality Marlène Schiappa also weighed in on the issue, saying it’s “impossible that a hall gets up and applauds the film of a man accused of rape several times”.

Local feminist group ‘Dare to be Feminist” meanwhile accused the Césars of being a “sexist institution that makes women invisible”

The César Academy, however, defended its position by arguing it was neither its role nor responsibility to “take moral positions” when choosing the movies and filmmakers for the awards. Polanski, who was expelled one year ago from the U.S. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, also has some high-profile supporters among the French cinema scene.

Legendary French actress Brigitte Bardon, for instance, came out in support of the director, arguing: “We should be thankful that Polanski is alive and saving French cinema from mediocrity. I judge him by his talent, not his private life”.

Roman Polanski fled the United States, where he had acquired world-wide fame following his 1968 horror-suspense movie Rosemary’ Baby, in 1977 after pleading guilty to unlawful sex with a 13-year-old in Los Angeles. Living in exile in France ever since, the 86-year-old filmmaker faced other accusations of sexual assault and misconduct, including in the wake of the MeToo Movement, but has always denied the allegations.

Winner of the Oscar for Best Director for his 2002 Holocaust-set masterpiece The Pianist, his 1964 movie Knife in the Water was one of the few Polish movies to ever be nominated for the Oscar of Best Foreign-Language Movie in history.

Main photo credit: Thomas Samson/AFP

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