Roman Polanski drops role of presiding over ‘French Oscars’ after outrage

The controversial film director Roman Polanski has given up a chance to preside over the Cesar awards - France's equivalent of the Oscars, his lawyer said on Thursday after the decision to hand him the role caused outrage among women's groups, who had called for protests.

Roman Polanski drops role of presiding over 'French Oscars' after outrage
Photo: AFP
The “controversy… deeply saddened Roman Polanski and affected his family,” his lawyer Herve Temine said in a statement.
“However, in order not to disturb the Cesars ceremonies, which should focus on the cinema and not on the appointment of the (event's) president, Roman Polanski has decided not accept the invitation… and will not preside over the next Cesars ceremonies,” he said.
The furore was “stoked by completely false information,” Termine said.
News that he had accepted the role prompted anger from French feminist groups and France's minister for women's rights. They had threatened to hold protests at the event and called for a boycott.
Their anger is caused by the fact Polanski has been wanted in the US for almost four decades for the rape of a 13-year-old girl in Los Angeles in 1977. 
The leading group Osez le feminisme (Dare feminism) called the decision by the French Academy of Cinema Arts and Techniques to offer Polanski the job of hosting the ceremony “shameful”.
In a statement titled “We feel sick”, the group blasted the decision to choose Polanski.
“We are extremely angry,” spokeswoman Claire Serre-Combe told AFP. “We cannot let this pass.
“Making Polanski president is a snub to rape and sexual assault victims. Some people say that he is a great film-maker, that everything is relative.
“The quality of his work counts for nothing when confronted with the crime he committed, his escape from justice and his refusal to face up to his responsibilities,” she added.
Polanski, who was 43 at the time, was accused of drugging the girl before having sex with her.
'It was 40 years ago' 
He pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with a minor, or statutory rape, as part of a plea bargain under which he served 42 days in detention while undergoing psychiatric evaluation.
But in 1978, convinced that a judge was going to scrap the deal and hand him a hefty prison sentence, Polanski fled to France.
The academy had earlier praised Polanski as an “insatiable aesthete” and former French culture minister Aurelie Filippetti defended him as a “great director… who should be allowed to preside over the ceremony.
“It is something that happened 40 years ago. One cannot bring up this affair every time we talk about him because there was a problem back them,” she told French public radio.
“It is just an awards ceremony, we should not give any more importance to it that than that,” said the novelist and Socialist MP.
Ironically, the film which is likely to win biggest at this year's Cesars is “Elle”, about a rape victim who takes her revenge on her attacker by extracting her own sexual pleasure from him.
It won best foreign film at the Golden Globes in Los Angeles earlier this month, and best actress for its star Isabelle Huppert.
Polanski, who is Franco-Polish, was arrested in Switzerland in 2009 on a US extradition request and spent 10 months under house arrest before Bern rejected the US order.
The US then asked Poland to extradite him in January 2015, but a Krakow court rejected the demand the in October, with the country's supreme court backing the decision two months later.

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Césars: The ‘French Oscars’ to go ahead with no Polanski and no Academy board

France's biggest film event, the Césars, will kick off on Friday without award nominee (and convicted child rapist) Roman Polanski and without its board - who resigned en masse two weeks ago.

Césars: The 'French Oscars' to go ahead with no Polanski and no Academy board
Filmmaker Roman Polanski will not be attending Friday's César awards. Photo: AFP

The awards known as the 'French Oscars' will take place on Friday night, but the ceremony has already been overshadowed by a huge row that erupted over the multiple nominations for Roman Polanski's film J'Accuse (released in the Anglophone world as An Officer and A Spy).

Polanski, who has lived in France since fleeing US justice in 1978, has already said he will not attend the ceremony in Paris.

“Activists are already threatening me with a public lynching, with some saying they are going to protest outside,” he said.

The Césars organisers have been under fire since they revealed that Polanski  topped the list of nominations for this year's awards.

French feminist groups had picketed the premiers of the film and were furious when it topped the Césars nominations.

France's equalities minister Marlène Schiappa earlier said that, although she did “not call for a boycott” of the ceremony, said that she thought it “impossible” that a room full of people “stand up and applaud the film of a man that has been accused multiple times of rape.”

'Violanski (Rape-lanski, viol is 'rape' in French). The Césars of shame'. Messages like these have been glued several places in France in he latest weeks. Photo: AFP

What does the cinema world say?

Prominent voices in the French film world have also condemned the decision to honour Polanski.

Among the French stars who have lashed out against the Academy was actress Adele Haenel who last year accused a different film director of her first film of sexually harassing her as a child.

“Distinguishing Polanski is spitting in the face of all victims,” she told The New York Times earlier this week.

“It means raping women isn't that bad.”


What does the Césars organisers say?

The Academy said that it could not be expected to take “moral positions” when evaluating films.

Faced with the mounting level of criticism after revealing its decision to include Polanski in its award nominations the Academy released a statement two weeks before the ceremony announcing that the board had resigned en masse.

“To honour those men and women who made cinema happen in 2019, to find calm and ensure that the festival of film remains just that, a festival, the board… has unanimously decided to resign,” the statement said.

“This collective decision will allow complete renewal of the board,” it added.

READ ALSO The French films with English subtitles you can watch in Paris in February

The Césars are the biggest night of the year for French filmmakers. Photo: AFP

So it's just about Polanski?

Not entirely, the Polanski controversy has brought into focus long-standing criticism of the Academy and the way it operates.

The day before the mass resignation more than 200 actors, producers, directors and movie personalities denounced the “dysfunction” at the academy and “opaqueness” in its accounts, in an open letter.

They also complained that the founding statutes of the Césars had not changed in a long time and that the academy's nearly 5,000 members do not get a vote or a say in its decisions.

So will the awards go ahead?

Yes, it will be held on Friday, February 28th at the Salle Pleyel auditorium in Paris – probably with some protests outside the venue.

“When we mobilise, things happen!”, feminist collective Nous Toutes (All Of Us) wrote on Twitter.

Another group, Osez Le Feminisme (Dare Feminism), said: “Imagine what's next. A new voting panel without male self-confidence, opacity and sexism. Will we finally stop applauding rapists and paedophiles on the run?”


Then what?

Once the ceremony is over and we've all enjoyed the sight of the great and the good of France pretending that they are delighted for the colleague who has just beaten them to the award, then the real work starts.

The Academy has asked the National Centre for Cinema, a culture ministry agency, to appoint a mediator to oversee “deep reform” of its statutes and governance.

Then the new board needs to be selected. The academy had previously announced measures to boost female representation in its membership and representation s the composition of the new board will be watched carefully.