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Roman Polanski win sparks protest and walkouts at France’s César Awards

France’s César Awards
Activists protest outside the Cesar Film Awards ceremony on Feb. 28.
(Lucas Barioulet / AFP/Getty Images)

The coup de grace for the César Awards’ troubled 2020 seemed to be when its entire embattled board resigned just days before the ceremony. Then came the protests ... and the best director honor.

When Roman Polanski‘s name was announced as the winner of the César — the equivalent of the French Oscar — for “An Officer and a Spy,” several attendees, including “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” nominee Adèle Haenel and director Céline Sciamma, walked out. Haenel mouthed the French word for “shame” as she exited. Outside, police clashed with protesters.

Among those in Hollywood who applauded the women’s actions on social media were Jessica Chastain, Rose McGowan, Thandie Newton and Rosanna Arquette, who tweeted, “Brava my sister Brava.”

Director Roman Polanski, again accused of rape, will not attend the Césars ceremony in Paris even though his latest film is up for several prizes.
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Polanski, who did not attend the Cesar ceremony, was convicted of unlawful sexual intercourse with a a 13-year-old girl in the U.S. in 1977. After serving less than half of a 90-day jail stay for psychiatric evaluation, the director of “Chinatown” and “Rosemary’s Baby” was released. When a judge ordered him to complete the stay before being deported, Polanski fled the country.

Amid Hollywood’s #MeToo reckoning, Polanski was expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2018, along with Bill Cosby. In April 2019, he filed a lawsuit to be reinstated. At least six women have accused the now-86-year-old of sexually assaulting them in separate incidents from 1970 to 1983, when they were between 10 and 16 years old.

The César Awards faced severe criticism following its 12 nominations for the box-office hit “Officer,” as well as ongoing displeasure over its low female membership (two-thirds of the 4,700-member group is male), lack of transparency and other issues. The board of the governing body, the French Academy of Cinema Arts and Sciences, announced its en-masse resignation Feb. 13, to be effective following the ceremony. Polanski announced on Feb. 27 that he would not attend the awards, where he anticipated he would face what he called a “public lynching” by activists.

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On the night of the ceremony, protesters gathered outside, some with signs bearing slogans such as “Shame on an industry that protects rapists.” As tensions grew, French police fired tear gas into the crowd.

Haenel had previously accused one of her former directors, Christophe Ruggia, of harassing her when she was 12. Ruggia initially denied the claims before asking her forgiveness, then attacking her in the press; he has been charged by French police. Haenel has become closely associated with France’s #MeToo movement.

The César win for “Officer” was Polanski’s fifth as director; he also won the Oscar in 2003 for “The Pianist.”

“An Officer and a Spy,” whose French title is “J’Accuse” (I Accuse), tells the story of the persecution of the French Jewish army Capt. Alfred Dreyfus in the 1890s.


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