Best director win for Polanski prompts boos, walkouts at César Awards in France

The ceremony for the French version of the Oscars took place in Paris on Friday amid protests by women's rights activists as director Roman Polanski was awarded, in his absence, the best director award for his latest film.

Women's groups protest outside event amid new rape accusation against director

Demonstrators protest against film director Roman Polanski near the venue for the César Awards in Paris on Friday. (Charles Platiau/Reuters)

The ceremony for the César Awards, the French version of the Oscars, took place in Paris on Friday amid protests by women's rights activists as director Roman Polanski was awarded, in his absence, the best director award for his latest film.

Polanski decided to skip the ceremony because of protests by women's groups denouncing the 12 nominations the film received after a French woman brought a new rape accusation against him.

At the announcement of Polanski's award as best director for his film An Officer and a Spy, some boos emerged from the audience of film teams and cinema professionals.

Actress Adèle Haenel, who recently denounced alleged sexual assault by another French director in the early 2000s when she was 15, got up and walked out of the room, followed by a few others.

"Distinguishing Polanski is spitting in the face of all victims. It means raping women isn't that bad," Haenel told the New York Times earlier this week.

The film's cast and production team, including best actor nominee Jean Dujardin, also declined to attend the ceremony. Dujardin posted a message on Instagram that said, "By making this film, I believed and I still believe I made more good than harm."

Actor Adèle Haenel arrives to attend the César Awards ceremony on Friday. (Christophe Ena/Associated Press)

An Officer and a Spy is about the anti-Semitic persecution of French army Capt. Alfred Dreyfus and his wrongful treason conviction in the 1890s. It was among the best film nominees. 

Polanski's film won two other awards for best costume design and best adaptation. No one came on stage to accept the trophies awarded to An Officer and a Spy.

The show's host, comedian Florence Foresti, left Polanski's film out of her opening remarks when she mentioned the ones with multiple nominations. Instead, Foresti referred to the 86-year-old director as "Atchoum," French for the Sneezy character in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

"I decided that Atchoum would not be big enough to overshadow the French cinema," she said.

Comedian and César Awards host Florence Foresti speaks on stage on Friday. (Piroschka van de Wouw/Reuters)

The award for best film has been awarded to Les Misérables, Ladj Ly's update of the Victor Hugo classic, about tensions between police and minorities in a poor Paris suburb. The film won the Jury Prize in Cannes Film Festival last year.

The entire male-dominated leadership of the César Awards stepped down recently amid disagreement over its decision-making structure and how to deal with the Polanski problem.

A few hundred protesters brandishing signs with phrases such as "Victims, we believe you" and "No to impunity" assembled outside the Salle Pleyel hall before the ceremony started. The group chanted, "We are here, we are here, even if Polanski doesn't like it, we are here."

"By supporting the aggressors, by celebrating the aggressors, one does not allow the victims to speak out. Their word is denied," said Céline Piques of women's activist group Osez le Féminisme.

In a statement this week, the Paris-based Polanski said the ceremony was turning into a "public lynching" and that he decided not to attend the ceremony to protect his colleagues and his wife and children.

New allegation

Polanski is still wanted in the United States decades after he was charged with raping a 13-year-old girl in 1977. He pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, but fled the country on the eve of sentencing.

Last year, a woman came forward to accuse Polanski of raping her in 1975 in his Swiss chalet when she was 18. Polanski denied it, and the allegations are too old for an investigation.

But the accusation put the director under fresh scrutiny in France, where he has long been revered as one of the country's premier filmmakers despite the outstanding rape charge in the U.S. Other accusations have also emerged.

"Is it normal for a man to rape and then 30 years later to be a star in popular cultures? No, it's not normal, and a rapist should be in prison," another Osez le Féminisme activist, Fabienne El Khoury, said.