Multiple actresses walked out of the César awards when the Polish- French director’s film won.
On Friday, Feb. 28, the César Awards were broadcasted live from France. Equivalent to the Oscars in the United States, the Césars are the national film award of France and have been a staple of the film community since 1976. The award ceremony garnered much attention over the weekend when Roman Polanski won Best Director for “An Officer and a Spy,” which prompted some female actors and filmmakers in the audience to leave the ceremony. Adele Haenel, star of the recently released “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” led the storm out and has spoken extremely openly about why she did so, explaining her own abuse within the film industry and the lack of transparency from the César’s executive board.
Outside the award ceremony there was even more outrage as approximately 400 anti-Polanski protesters carried signs and cried out against the filmmaker and his accolades from the evening. In Los Angeles in 1977, Polanski was charged with five offenses against 13-year-old Samantha Geimer: rape by use of drugs, perversion, sodomy, lewd and lacivious act upon a child, and furnishing a controlled substance to a minor.
Polanski ultimately pleaded guilty to a lesser crime — unlawful sexual intercourse — in exchange for the other five charges being dropped. However, mere hours before his sentencing, Polanski fled to France to avoid serving prison time and has remained there ever since, carefully avoiding countries that would extradite him to the United States. He has faced several other accusations of similar nature since his fleeing from the U.S. justice system.
Roman Polanski was nominated for 12 awards at the Césars and won three of them. The controversy surrounding Polanski and the award ceremony began upon the release of nominations, and Polanski didn’t actually attend the ceremony for fear of a “public lynching.” Prominent figures within the French cinema community began calling for a “complete overhaul” of the organization in hopes that there would be a new era of inclusivity and more discerning judgement. In the days following the ceremony, all 21 members of the board announced their resignation in solidarity with survivors. “What we want is more democracy, more transparency, diversity and parity … these demands are overdue.”
It is truly appalling that there is still recognition and praise around the globe for grown men who commit heinous crimes. Not only does it condone their behavior, but it sends the abhorrent message to their victims that they aren’t as important as what these powerful men create. I completely agree with Haenel when she spoke to reporters after storming out of the ceremony: “Distinguishing Polanski is spitting in the face of all victims. It means raping women isn’t that bad.” I’m immediately reminded of other individuals who have been essentially rewarded for assaulting women. Casey Affleck, Harvey Weinstein, Woody Allen. Where does it stop?
There has been progress, no doubt. The open dialogue that has been created surroudning the issue of sexual assault has expanded over the last few years in ways that have changed how victims are treated in their daily lives and in the criminal justice system. But the César Awards, other award shows,television shows and popular culture outlets continue to reinforce the long standing precedent that rapists and predators are more entitled to space and safety than others. While I understand that ceasing to acknowledge the creative endeavors of men like Polanski and Weinstein will not solve the issue, I think it as an obvious and simple step in the right direction that would have an incredibly hefty weight with the MeToo movement and assault survivors around the world.