Best director win for Polanski prompts walkouts at César Awards in France

Roman Polanski, who faces accusations of rape, won France’s César Award for best directing for his film An Officer and a Spy on Friday, prompting several actors to walk out of the ceremony in protest.

Polanski decided to skip the ceremony because of protests by women’s groups denouncing the 12 nominations the film received after a French woman brought a new rape accusation against him.

Among those who left the hall was Adèle Haenel, who last year said she had been abused as a child by another director.

The film’s cast and production team, including best actor nominee Jean Dujardin, also declined to attend the ceremony. Dujardin posted a message on Instagram that said, “By making this film, I believed and I still believe I made more good than harm.”

No one came on stage to accept the first trophy of the night awarded to An Officer and a Spy, for best costume design.

The show’s host, comedian Florence Foresti, left Polanski’s film out of her opening remarks when she mentioned the ones with multiple nominations. Instead, Foresti referred to the 86-year-old director as “Atchoum,” French for the Sneezy character in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

“I decided that Atchoum would not be big enough to overshadow the French cinema,” she said.

Actress Sandrine Kiberlain, who formally opened the ceremony, also acknowledged the outrage. The entire male-dominated leadership of the César Awards stepped down recently amid disagreement over its decision-making structure and how to deal with the Polanski problem.

“This year is symbolic of the liberation of speech, of courageous voices raised,” Kimberlain said. “The battle continues more than ever” in favour of women’s rights.

A few hundred protesters brandishing signs with phrases such as “Victims, we believe you” and “No to impunity” assembled outside the Salle Pleyel hall before the ceremony started. The group chanted, “We are here, we are here, even if Polanski doesn’t want to, we are here.”

“By supporting the aggressors, by celebrating the aggressors, one does not allow the victims to speak out. Their word is denied,” said Céline Piques of women’s activist group Osez le Féminisme.

In a statement this week, the Paris-based Polanski said the ceremony was turning into a “public lynching” and that he decided not to attend the ceremony to protect his colleagues and his wife and children.

New allegation

Polanski is still wanted in the United States decades after he was charged with raping a 13-year-old girl in 1977. He pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, but fled the country on the eve of sentencing.

Last year, a woman came forward to accuse Polanski of raping her in 1975 in his Swiss chalet when she was 18. Polanski denied it, and the allegations are too old for an investigation.

But the accusation put the director under fresh scrutiny in France, where he has long been revered as one of the country’s premier filmmakers despite the outstanding rape charge in the U.S. Other accusations have also emerged.

“Is it normal for a man to rape and then 30 years later to be a star in popular cultures? No, it’s not normal, and a rapist should be in prison,” another Osez le Féminisme activist, Fabienne El Khoury, said.

An Officer and a Spy is about the anti-Semitic persecution of French army Capt. Alfred Dreyfus and his wrongful treason conviction in the 1890s. It was among the best film nominees. Polanski had nominations for best adaptation as well as best director.