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  • The San Juan Daily Star

Top French film awards bar nominees investigated on sexual violence charges

By CONSTANT MÉHEUT


The César Awards, France’s equivalent of the Oscars, said earlier this week that nominees convicted of or under investigation on sexual assault charges would be barred from next month’s ceremony, in the organization’s latest effort to burnish its image.


The movie industry in France, and the César Academy in particular, have been wrestling with several high-profile accusations of sexual abuse in recent years. In late November, French news media revealed that Sofiane Bennacer, who was considered a favorite for a César Award for his lead role in the movie “Les Amandiers” (“Forever Young”), was under police investigation on rape charges and that rumors about the accusations had circulated in the film industry for months.


“Out of respect for the victims,” a statement from the César Academy read, “it has been decided not to highlight people who may have been implicated by the judiciary in acts of violence.”


The decision so far only applies to this year’s ceremony, and it does not mean that someone convicted or under investigation will be ineligible for an award. The academy said that it was considering a rule change around eligibility and that a decision would be made about that this year.


The announcement Monday came as the academy was still reeling from controversies that have dented its credibility in the past few years. Some high-profile accusations of sexual abuse have emerged from the French film industry, including from Adèle Haenel, a leading actress, who has spoken about being harassed by a director when she was 12.


Perhaps the biggest scandal involving the academy revolved around Roman Polanski, the film director who fled the United States in 1978 while awaiting sentencing for unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor.


In 2017, the announcement that Polanski would preside over the César Awards ceremony prompted protests that forced him to step down. Three years later, he was awarded best director, prompting widespread outrage. Haenel was one of those who left the room at the ceremony in 2020, waving an arm and appearing to say, “Shame.”


The Polanski scandal, along with long-standing criticism of the academy’s leadership, prompted a major overhaul of the organization. It introduced gender parity on the administration board and dropped nonelected board members, including Polanski.


The investigation of Bennacer, however, has thrown the spotlight back on the academy’s workings.


In mid-November, the academy longlisted Bennacer, 25, for the best newcomer award. A few days later, the newspaper Le Parisien revealed that Bennacer was being investigated on two allegations of rape and another of violence against a partner.


A subsequent article, by the daily Libération, found that rumors about the accusations had circulated long before the academy’s nomination and that the movie’s producers had learned of a rape complaint at the beginning of shooting, in June 2021.


After the publication of the Parisien article, the César Academy dropped Bennacer from the longlist of nominees.


Bennacer has denied any wrongdoing, and the director of “Forever Young,” Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, has defended him, denouncing a “media lynching.”


The César Academy said in its statement Monday that the bar on those convicted or under investigation would include a ban on speaking on behalf of them at the ceremony.


Claire Lasne Darcueil, director of the French National Academy of Dramatic Arts, said that she welcomed the academy’s decision, which she interpreted as recognition of the victims’ voices.

Other allegations of sexual abuse in the French film industry remain unresolved. Among major names who are still under police investigation are Gérard Depardieu, who has been accused of rape and sexual assault, and Dominique Boutonnat, a producer whom the French government reappointed in July as president of the National Center for Cinema despite allegations that he had sexually assaulted his godson.


Lasne Darcueil said much still needed to be done.


“The time when we will all roll up our sleeves, get together and say that this will no longer happen is still a long way off,” she noted.

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