One of the highest film honors in France was awarded to a convicted child rapist, a step in the wrong direction for the #MeToo movement
Rabat – The prestigious Cesar Awards took place on February 28th in Paris, France. The award show, known as the French equivalent to the Oscars, named Roman Polanski as Best Director for his film J’Accuse (An Officer and a Spy), inspired by the novel of the same name.
The film won 12 nominations, more than any other movie at this year’s show, walking away with Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Costume Design, and Best Director.
No one affiliated with the movie made an appearance at the awards, not even Polanski himself. Before the awards, Polanski announced his intention to avoid the ceremony due to fears of a “Public Lynching.” The jury’s decision to honor Polanski was met with widespread disapproval.
J’Accuse (An Officer and a Spy) revolves around the Dreyfus Affair, a political scandal that spanned from the late 19th century to the early 20th century. The film focuses on Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish artillery captain, who was accused of selling military secrets to the Germans and sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island. The movie was written by Robert Harris and Roman Polanski, who has always had an interest in the Dreyfus Affair.
The movie met with severe backlash because of similarities between the film’s plot and Roman Polanski’s own sexual abuse scandals, which did not appear to be coincidences. Roman Polanski admitted to statutory rape of a 13-year-old in 1977 and is still wanted in the United States after fleeing persecution, France has refused extradition for decades.
Since this incident, multiple women have come forward against Polanski accusing him of sexual assault. Recently, Valentine Monnier, a French photographer who accused Polanski of sexual assault when she was 18 years old in 1975. Polanski has denied Monnier’s claims along with others. Despite his guilty verdict, Polanski still claims he is still a victim and slandered by the media, showing that he has no remorse decades after.
The #Metoo Movement
J’Accuse (An Officer and a Spy) is Polanski’s first film after the #MeToo movement, an international movement protesting sexual harassment and sexual assault, particularly in the entertainment business. Polanski’s initial nomination led to disapproval from the public. Over 400 french industry figures signed a petition for a complete overhaul of the system. Polanski’s win led to riots in the streets outside the awards where protesters clashed with authorities.
Various organizations stood outside to protest, such as Osez le Féminisme. Polanski’s win shows issues within French cinema, awarding a rapist with one of the most prestigious awards despite the widespread backlash. Protesters could be seen outside the awards ceremony holding signs with “shame” written on them.
Reactions from Prominent Actresses
At the reveal of the win, there was little to no cheering, multiple actresses walked out of the theater, including Portrait of A Lady On Fire actress Adèle Haenel, who walked out shouting “Bravo la pédophilie!” Haenel recently revealed she was sexually abused by another director when she was 12 years old.
In an interview with The New York Times leading up to the show, she condemned Polanski’s nomination and said it was “spitting in the face of victims.” She added that France has not been keeping up with the #Metoo movement. Haenel urges France to do more to prosecute sexual assault cases.
Since the awards’ disregard for sexual assault allegations against Polanski and the negative reception of his win, the public has called for change. All 21 board members that oversee the organization have stepped down from their positions in response to disapproval from the public and the petition with over 400 signatures.
What Does This Mean For Cinema
The #Metoo era has shown a wave of support for victims and intolerance for sexual abuse. Before the movement, Polanski along with many others accused of sexual assault had not been harmed by allegations against them and their actions of abuse were largely ignored. The movement began a call for abusers to be held responsible for their actions.
The general hope is that the resignation of the board members and public outcry will pave way for holding abusers accountable. Yet, Polanski’s win proved to be a step in the wrong direction for progress. Polanski’s win for Best Director comes a few days after disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein was convicted for sexual assault.
The issue is a global problem, sexual assault of any kind should be punished and not rewarded. International cinema should no longer reward men who have been accused of sexual assault. The César Awards showed that there needs to be a call to action, people like Roman Polanski should no longer be rewarded. The international cinema needs to be more empathetic to victims and not put abusers on a pedestal. In the age of the #MeToo movement, abusers need to be publicly condemned.