The board of the Cesar Academy which oversees the Cesar Awards, France’s equivalent to the Oscars, has resigned en masse in the wake of this year’s nominations. All 21 members of the board of the Association for the Promotion of Cinema are stepping down after widespread outrage regarding the 12 Cesar nominations for Roman Polanski’s An Officer and a Spy.
The board released a statement saying they had “unanimously decided to resign” to “honour those men and women who made cinema happen in 2019, to find calm and ensure that the festival of film remains just that, a festival … This collective decision will allow complete renewal of the board.”
Polanski, of course, is the director of Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby who fled the U.S. to avoid a prison sentence after pleading guilty to raping a 13-year-old girl in 1977. The director has since been accused of rape and sexual assault by several women, many when they were minors.
Despite what should have been career-ending behavior, Polanski has continued making critically acclaimed films and living in countries where he cannot be extradited. In 2017, Polanski was set to preside over the Cesar Awards until several French women’s groups started a boycott and launched a petition that garnered over 61,000 signatures.
Like the Oscars, the Cesars have long been criticized for being overly white, straight, and male. Many have spoken out to diversify the voting base by bringing in new members, but many blame board leadership. Unlike the BAFTAs and the Academy, which elect their leaders, the Cesars board members are appointed.
The Cesar Academy also came under fire last month after they snubbed director Claire Denis and writer Virginie Despentes during the Revelations dinner, a gala event the Academy hosts, despite both women participating in the events leading up to it.
Over 400 French film actors/directors/crew have signed a petition demanding an overhaul of the antiquated system, one that will allow for more inclusive voices. These include Bérénice Bejo, Omar Sy, Lea Seydoux and Michel Hazanavicius. Sandrine Bauer, one of the leaders of 50/50 for 2020, said that Polanski’s nominations sweep “reflects an old world…a biased perspective leading to inequalities and encouraging the silence, … There is a new world that is unafraid to open up to youth, to women, to diversity.”
Polanski had previously responded to the backlash to his film, by claiming he was suffering from “persecution” by “neo-feminist McCarthyism”. His film, An Officer And A Spy, focuses on the 1894 Dreyfus Affair, in which a Jewish officer was convicted wrongfully of treason and sentenced to life in prison. Polanski has made parallels between Dreyfus’s treatment and his own, which are patently absurd. Polanski and Dreyfus are both Jewish and have suffered from anti-Semitism. But Dreyfus never plead guilty to drugging and raping a child, so there is a HUGE difference, to put it lightly, between the two.
The Cesar Academy has promised sweeping reform of its operations and leadership, claiming it was doing so “to honor all those who made (French) cinema in 2019, and to gain back some serenity and ensure that the celebration of cinema remains a celebration.”
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