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France’s Oscars Give Roman Polanski Another Pass

The film director who fled rape accusations in the U.S. 40 years ago will present this year’s César awards—prompting social-media users, and one French feminist group, to announce a boycott and protests.
Roman Polanski receives the Best Director award for Venus in Fur during the 39th Cesar Film Awards on February 28th, 2014, in Paris. 

Roman Polanski receives the Best Director award for Venus in Fur during the 39th Cesar Film Awards on February 28th, 2014, in Paris. 

One month after Poland upheld its decision not to extradite Roman Polanski to the United States to face decades-old rape charges, France’s equivalent of the Oscars has also decided to give the filmmaker a pass.

Two days ago, the César Awards announced that Polanski, who has predominantly lived in France since he fled the U.S. on the day he was due in court to receive sentencing in 1974, would preside over this year’s ceremony, on February 24th. And much like how the nominations of predominantly white artists prompted some Hollywood celebrities to forego the Oscars in 2016, Twitter users and the French feminist group Osez le féminisme (Dare Feminism) have proposed a boycott and protests of this year’s ceremony on social media in retaliation.

“We cannot let this pass,” Claire Serre-Combe, a member of Osez le feminisme, told Agence France-Presse yesterday. “The quality of his work counts for nothing when confronted with the crime he committed, his escape from justice and his refusal to face up to his responsibilities.”

Her group has invited supporters to protest in front of the Châtelet theatre in Paris on February 4th, as well as in front of the Salle Pleyel, the venue that hosts the ceremony, on the 24th. Meanwhile, social-media users using the hashtag #BoycottCesar claim the decision shows the absurd amounts of impunity male celebrities enjoy, and ask whether 40 years is really long enough to forget rape charges.

Whether or not they support the César boycott, the majority of French people do seem to think that Polanski should face his American charges decades after they were first filed: As the Financial Times reported in 2009, public opinion polls show that 65 to 75 percent of the French population believes Polanski should be extradited.

It’s not particularly surprising, though, that the French Academy has forgiven and forgotten: Polanski’s films have been nominated for 11 César awards since his 1974 legal troubles, and he’s won four times for best director. French culture ministers, too, have historically been sympathetic to Polanski: On Thursday, former minister of culture Aurélie Filippetti defended the ceremony’s decision, noting: “One cannot bring up this affair every time we talk about him because there was a problem back then. It is just an awards ceremony.” Her remarks echo those of former French culture minister Frédéric Mitterrand, who similarly backed the director in 2009, when Polanski was being detained in Switzerland, calling America’s attempts at extradition “frightening.”

Why, then, has this year’s decision raised so much rancor among the nation’s feminists? Perhaps, as the Guardiansuggests, it’s because a favorite to win several awards at this year’s ceremony is Elle—a film about a woman who brings her rapist to justice on her own terms.