Numerous actors walked out of France’s César Awards, the country’s equivalent to the Oscars, after convicted rapist and disgraced director Roman Polanski took home one of the top prizes at the ceremony.
Nominated for 12 awards, Polanski’s “An Officer And A Spy” had already garnered plenty of controversy before the award show even kicked off in Paris on Friday night, as the 21-person board that oversees the event abruptly resigned en masse earlier this month in protest of his nominations and the organization’s “opaque decision-making process.”
Though Polanski — who pleaded guilty in 1977 for unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl — refused to attend the award show for fear of a “public lynching,” he won best director for the film, which prompted multiple attendees to storm out of the ceremony.
Actor Adèle Haenel, who was nominated for her performance in Céline Sciamma’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” stood up and exited the Salle Pleyel after Polanski won the award, appearing to yell “shame” as she left the hall.
“Bravo, pedophilia!” Haenel, one of the first high-profile actors in France to speak out about sexual abuse in the country’s film industry, said in the lobby.
Sciamma — as well as several other attendees, including “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” actor Noémie Merlant and cinematographer Claire Mathon — reportedly also left the venue after Polanski’s win.
The 86-year-old director has been the target of a storm of criticism since fleeing the United States for France in 1978 before he could be sentenced for unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor.
A number of other women have accused Polanski of sexual assault in recent years, including French model and actress Valentine Monnier, who said the Oscar-winning director violently raped her in the 1970s when she was 18.
Polanski has denied the allegation and continues to make films that are regularly honored in the international awards circuit.
“Distinguishing Polanski is spitting in the face of all victims,” Haenel told The New York Times in an interview earlier this month. “It means raping women isn’t that bad.”
She went onto describe France’s “Me Too paradox,” noting the muted reaction to accusations of misconduct in the industry and the reluctance to make protecting women a priority.
“It is one of the countries where the movement was the most closely followed on social media, but from a political perspective and in cultural spheres, France has completely missed the boat,” Haenel added.
The actor spoke out last year about being abused as a child by director Christophe Ruggia between the ages of 12 and 15. Ruggia, who initially denied the claim, was arrested in January and charged by French authorities for “sexual aggression against a minor by a person of authority and sexual harassment,” according to Variety.
Protesters gathered outside of the César Awards earlier in the day and clashed with French police, who reportedly fired tear gas into the crowd.
The demonstration and Haenel and Sciamma’s walkout were applauded by many in Hollywood including Jessica Chastain, Thandie Newton, Rosanna Arquette and Rose McGowan, who tweeted, “You have both done it. You are breaking the French system. Keep going.”
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