Following an outcry from French women’s groups over the selection of Roman Polanski as President of next month’s César Awards, the filmmaker has pulled out of the post. Polanski’s attorney told Agence France Presse on Tuesday morning that he has renounced the position, but called the polemic “unjustified.” The Académie des Arts et Techniques, which oversees France’s equivalent to the Oscars, has not yet responded to Polanski’s decision.
The movement against Polanski has been led by feminist org Osez Le Feminisme, which called him “an author of sexual violence who remains unpunished, protected by his celebrity status.” The 83-year-old filmmaker 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, continuing to live and work largely in France. Multiple attempts to extradite him to the U.S. have stalled.
Osez Le Feminisme has also yet to respond to this morning’s revelation, but had earlier called for a protest of the Césars ceremony on February 24, saying it was “nauseated” by the Académie’s decision to offer Polanski the presidency. The role is a largely honorary title with no major function other than to speak at the beginning of the telecast and officially open the event.
A social media campaign that began last week has been accompanied by an online petition which had garnered over 61K signatures by this morning. According to local reports, Polanski’s attorney told AFP that the filmmaker had been “deeply saddened” by the controversy which had “affected his family.”
Polanski has been in and out of European courts as prosecutors have sought his extradition to the U.S. He holds dual citizenship in France and Poland, residing primarily in France. While French law prohibits extradition of its citizens, Polish law does not. 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.
Many in the French film industry refrained from commenting, although director Alexandre Arcady told Le Parisien, “The case was settled with the girl. Roman has paid a great deal… We are creating a controversy around a father who honors our cinema.” French actor François Berléand added, “I do not condone what Polanski did 40 years ago, but he is a man I deeply respect and he has a place at the Césars.”
Actor Gilles Lellouche also came to Polanski’s defense, “In France, we create polemics over everything… I think we have to be consistent. Polanski has lived in France for 40 years. The acts he is reproached for happened before his arrival in this country. For all these years, he has been making films… I’m not trying to excuse what happened, but why today more than yesterday should there be a scandal? What’s going on here? Are we becoming Americans? I don’t agree with that, and I’ll tell you, we’ve had enough with all these people who bark with the pack.”
Last week, Aurélie Filippetti, the former French Culture Minister, had 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, had also told Le Monde he did not understand the “torrent of indignation.”
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.”
César nominations will be announced tomorrow in Paris.