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Why the Box-Office Boycott Against Roman Polanski Worked

The Polish director’s decision, which comes after a #BoycottCesar protest, appears to be a rare case of a box-office boycott that worked.

Is this the year of #FilmAwardsSoSocialJustice? On the same day journalists in America are lauding this year’s Academy Awards for nominating a diverse pool of creatives, protestors in France are celebrating an accused sex offender’s decision to step down from a prestigious position at the ceremony of France’s highest film awards following much social-media protest.

According to a public statement released today by his lawyer, director Roman Polanski has decided to forgo presiding over this year’s César Awards “in order not to disturb the César ceremony, which should be centered on cinema and not on whom it chose to preside over the ceremony.” In less vague terms, after Polanski was announced as the president of the ceremony, the hashtag #BoycottCesar began trending on Twitter, along with a petition and at least two planned in-person protests. The César decision also prompted a rare chastisement from the French government: Last week, Laurence Rossignol, France’s minister for families, children, and women’s rights, called the César decision to appointment Polanski president “surprising and shocking,” a result of the “rape culture in which we operate.”

The César controversy “deeply saddened Roman Polanski and reached his family,” Polanski’s lawyer wrote, and, as a result, he “decided not to comply with the invitation.” (That’s not to say anyone on Polanski’s side believes justice has been served: His lawyer additionally called the controversy “unjustified.”)

Protestors took to social media to congratulate one another for causing real change. “Bravo @osezlefeminisme!” one user wrote; another used the opportunity to ask France and Switzerland to extradite Polanski to the United States. (Polanski pled guilty in 1978 to charges that he had sex with a 13-year-old girl but fled the U.S. before receiving sentencing. He’s since been living in France, which has no extradition treaty with the U.S. Last December, Polanski, a dual citizen of Poland and France, also got the OK to travel freely to Poland when a national court reaffirmed its decision not to extradite him to the U.S.)

Today’s announcement is impressive in at least one major regard: This appears to be a rare case of a social-media box-office boycott that’s actually worked. White, male stars like Johnny Depp, Sean Penn, and Woody Allen have often not been penalized at the box office after accusations of bad behavior have surfaced in the press.

Protestors stateside might take note: This morning, several took issue with the Oscar nominations given to Casey Affleck, an accused sex offender, and Mel Gibson, who has previously made controversial comments about race.