French Film Academy appoints interim leader ahead of tense Césars Awards

French producer Margaret Menegoz receives the Best Film award for Michael Haneke’s film "Amour" at the 38th Cesar Awards ceremony on February 22, 2013.
French producer Margaret Menegoz receives the Best Film award for Michael Haneke’s film "Amour" at the 38th Cesar Awards ceremony on February 22, 2013. © Patrick Kovarick, AFP

France's Académie des Césars, which awards its version of the Oscars, appointed an interim leader on Wednesday, days after its entire board resigned amid controversies over the academy's attitude to women and its lack of transparency.


The appointment of film producer Margaret Menegoz comes just 48 hours ahead of the Cesars’ annual gala awards ceremony, which feminist groups have vowed to disrupt in protest against film director Roman Polanski.

Menegoz, who heads the Films du Losange production company, is only the second woman to lead the prestigious academy, after film legend Jeanne Moreau in the 1980s.

The decision to appoint her follows a series of rows that infuriated both women's activists and industry insiders, rattling the academy and precipitating the board’s mass resignation on February 13.

The academy first came under fire in mid-January after it refused to let two young actresses invite their mentors, film-makers Virginie Despentes and Claire Denis, to a dinner organised to honour the up-and-coming actors. Despentes and Denis are outspoken feminists.

It was again lambasted later in the month after Polanski's latest film, "An Officer and a Spy", topped the list of nominations for this year's Cesar awards, due to be handed out on Friday.

The ‘French Oscars’, under fire, brace for a Polanski showdown

Polanski, who holds French citizenship, is persona non grata in Hollywood over the 1978 statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl. More recently he has denied new rape allegations from photographer Valentine Monnier, who says he raped her at his Swiss chalet in 1975.

His film, which won two awards at the Venice Film Festival, has been a box office hit at home, despite a wave of protests that saw some screenings cancelled after protesters invaded or blockaded cinemas. 

Its inclusion on the Cesars’ shortlist has prompted condemnation from France’s equality minister, women’s groups and some film critics.

The latest Polanski row comes as French cinema has belatedly begun its own reckoning of sex abuse allegations in the film industry, spurred on by the likes of actress Adèle Haenel, who touched a nerve last autumn when she opened up about the sexual harassment she endured while shooting her first film, aged 12.

In an interview with the New York Times this week, Haenel said France had “completely missed the boat” on the #MeToo movement, failing to draw a line between “libertine behaviour” and “sexual abuse”.

"Distinguishing Polanski is spitting in the face of all victims," she said, in a warning to the Cesars Academy. "It means raping women isn't that bad."


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