French women’s groups have called for protests of the César Awards ceremony next month over the Académie des Arts et Techniques’ decision to name Roman Polanski President of the proceedings. A largely honorary title — the president’s main role is to declare the event officially open — it was bestowed upon the Polish filmmaker earlier this week. France’s version of the Oscars will be held February 24, nominations are this coming Wednesday.
But feminists’ org Osez Le Feminisme says it will boycott the event, slamming the Académie for honoring Polanski with the presidency. It has called for protesters to gather in front of the César venue on February 24. Many have taken to social media to decry the choice while the Minister of Women’s Rights, Laurence Rossignol, told France Culture the decision was “surprising and shocking.”
The 83-year-old Polanski has been wanted in the United States for 40 years over a 1977 child sex conviction. At the time, he cut a plea deal and served 42 days in prison but fled the U.S. on the eve of sentencing when it appeared the judge in the case had moved the legal goalposts. The Chinatown and Pianist director has been a fugitive from American justice ever since.
The case has been in and out of European courts as prosecutors have sought his extradition to the U.S. Polanski holds dual citizenship in France and Poland, residing largely in France. While French law prohibits extradition of its citizens, Polish law does not. But in December, Poland’s supreme court upheld an earlier verdict that Polanski cannot be extradited to the U.S., bringing a definitive end to the case in the Oscar-winning filmmaker’s native country.
Previously, in 2009, Polanski was placed under house arrest in Switzerland while a similar extradition request was examined. He was released after nine months.
Samantha Geimer, the victim in the 1977 case, has repeatedly said she believes Polanski’s exile has been punishment enough. But the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has insisted he is subject to arrest in the United States.
Osez Le Feminisme has posted a notice to its website asking the Académie, “Wasn’t there another person with a prestigious career and important filmography who could preside over the ceremony?” Polanski, it says, “has continued to make films and win prizes and honors despite what he has committed. He is an author of sexual violence who remains unpunished, protected by his celebrity status… Some will argue that Roman Polanski is a great filmmaker and that we must make the difference. We respond that the quality of his filmography counts little in the face of the abjection of the crime he committed, his flight and his refusal to assume his responsibilities.”
Aurélie Filippetti, the former French Culture Minister, defended the filmmaker as a “great director” who “should be allowed to preside over this ceremony.” Filippetti told Franco Info radio, “It’s something that happened 40 years ago. One cannot bring up this affair every time we talk about him… It’s just an awards ceremony.”
Alain Rocca, one of the six members of the committee that selects the president, told Le Monde he did not understand the “torrent of indignation… Normally the presidency of the Césars ceremony interests no one. But the subject has suddenly become interesting today as soon as it’s about sullying an institution and a man like Polanski… It’s with this kind of post-vérité dynamic that we ended up electing Trump in the United States.”
When the Académie released its announcement that Polanski would be president, it called the multiple César winner an “insatiable aesthete” and listed him as “an artist, filmmaker, producer, screenwriter, actor, director” adding, “There are a lot of words to define Roman Polanski, but only one to express our admiration and enchantment, thank you Mr President.”
An online petition calling for Polanski to be removed from the post had garnered about 50K signatures as of Saturday morning.