After weeks of the turmoil surrounding filmmaker Roman Polanski, whose latest film An Officer and a Spy led nominations ahead of the 2020 awards ceremony, the “French Oscars” management quit en masse on Thursday.
The resignations came only two weeks before the Cesar Awards, France’s Oscars, which contained 12 nominations for Polanski’s film about Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish French officer wrongfully accused of spying for Germany in the 1890s.
“The board of directors of the film academy unanimously decided to resign to honor those who made films in 2019, to reestablish serenity, and to make the movie festival a celebration,” the French film academy said in a statement.
Feminist organizations slammed the nominations and demanded that the film be boycotted. In an open letter, dozens of film industry figures, including X-Men actor Omar Sy and Berenice Bejo of the 2011 film The Artist, condemned the academy’s “opaqueness.”
Polanski premiered his latest picture in France just days after a French actress accused him of raping her when she was 18 years old during a ski vacation in Gstaad, Switzerland, in 1975.
The charge has been refuted by Polanski, who is now 86 years old.
After pleading guilty to having illicit sex with a 13-year-old girl in Los Angeles in 1977, the French-Polish director fled the country.
The allegations against Polanski predate Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood film mogul who was embroiled in a sexual harassment controversy in 2017.
However, when the #MeToo movement against sexual abuse and harassment intensified in response to the claims against Weinstein, who is on trial in New York for rape and sexual assault, Polanski’s past came under additional investigation.
In 2018, Polanski was kicked out of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Director Award Sends ‘Negative Message’
Franck Riester, France’s Minister of Culture, had already insisted on separating the artist from the work of art. He did, however, make a contrast between the two Oscars given to Polanski’s picture.
Because it was a “team endeavor,” the minister told public channel France Info that “An Officer and a Spy” might win the award for best film. Polanski receiving the award for best director, on the other hand, would “send a terrible message.”
However, actress Fanny Ardant, who won a Cesar for best-supporting actress for her part in “La Belle Époque,” came to Polanski’s rescue.
Shortly after winning, she told reporters, “When I love someone, I love them with all of my heart. I also adore Roman Polanski… a lot… So I’m ecstatic for him. Then I realize that not everyone agrees, yet freedom reigns supreme!”
In a handwritten note posted on Twitter, veteran French film actress Brigitte Bardot also defended Polanski: “Polanski, thankfully, exists, and he is protecting cinema from mediocrity! I evaluate him based on his abilities, not his personal life! I’m sorry I never got to shoot with him!”
Deeply Controversial Choice
Polanski declined a CNN interview request, but said in a statement that he couldn’t attend the César awards because he didn’t want to “front a self-proclaimed court of opinion eager to trample on the norms of the rule of law so that the irrational can once again win uncontested.”
“We have a good idea of how the evening will go. Activists had threatened to lynch me in public “He was referring to feminist activists who had promised to demonstrate outside the venue.
Polanski went on to praise the 200 “amazing talents” who worked on the film with him and explained that one of the reasons he couldn’t attend was to protect his family.
The film received 12 nominations. It is based on the historical story of Alfred Dreyfus, a French army captain who was wrongfully charged with treason and convicted of it in 1894. Dreyfus was subsequently exonerated, making it one of the most famous erroneous convictions in French history.
Despite the controversy, the film did well at the box office, with over 1.6 million tickets sold, according to the most recent numbers from the French National Cinema Center.