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.”
Adèle Haenel in the @nytimes: France has “a justice system that doesn’t make violence against women a priority.” She talks about her #MeToo story, Polanski, and urges @EmmanuelMacron's government to do more to tackle violence against womenhttps://t.co/9g6x95Rlue
— Elian Peltier (@ElianPeltier) February 24, 2020
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.
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?”
“Démission collective” des @Les_Cesar
Imaginons la suite ? nouveau collège de votants sans entre-soi masculin, opacité et sexisme. Et On finira bien par cesser d’acclamer des #violeurs #pedocriminels en cavale ? #polanski @Les_Cesar ?? https://t.co/U3m3lO78Sh
— Osez le féminisme ! (@osezlefeminisme) February 13, 2020
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.