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‘French Oscars’ seek to bury #MeToo crisis by naming male-female duo to head César Academy

Véronique Cayla, the former president of French-German TV channel Arte (left) and French cinema director Éric Toledano (right) have been nominated to jointly head up the prestigious French César Academy, which each year awards the most prestigious French cinema prizes.
Véronique Cayla, the former president of French-German TV channel Arte (left) and French cinema director Éric Toledano (right) have been nominated to jointly head up the prestigious French César Academy, which each year awards the most prestigious French cinema prizes. AFP - ERIC PIERMONT,VALERIE MACON
3 min

The board behind the prestigious César film awards, known as the “French Oscars”, announced on Monday it would nominate a male-female duo to head up the academy in a bid to repair its tarnished image after the former leadership resigned en masse earlier this year in the wake of a scandal over its shortlisting director Roman Polanski for several top prizes.

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A US court convicted Polanski for the rape of a minor in 1978 and he has since been accused of several other sexual assaults.

The board’s interim president, Margaret Ménégoz, said in a statement that the board had nominated TV and film veteran Véronique Cayla and internationally acclaimed writer and director Éric Toledano to the academy’s presidency; their appointments will be confirmed during a general meeting on Tuesday. Ménégoz described the duo as “respected and very different” personalities within French cinema.

The announcement was hailed by the French movie industry, with filmmaker Marc Missionner saying the institution would now have the support of “the whole profession to renovate the image of the academy”.

The César Academy came under severe criticism earlier this year after it was revealed that Polanski – who is still wanted in the US for the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl in 1977 – topped the list of nominations for his film “J’accuse” (in English known as, “An Officer and a Spy”). 

The publicity campaign for Polanski's movie was halted last year after another woman, photographer Valentine Monnier, claimed that she had also been raped by the director in 1975 when she was 18.

But that did not stop “J’accuse” from becoming a box-office hit in France.

The inclusion of Polanski's film on the César shortlist was condemned by France's minister for equality as well as women's groups and film critics, but the academy fervently stood by its decision, saying it could not be expected to take "moral positions" when awarding films. Just two weeks before the February 28 ceremony, the entire César leadership resigned due to the controversy. 

Yet Polanski, who boycotted the ceremony for fear of a “public lynching”, took home two awards at the 2020 Césars, winning best-adapted screenplay and best director – with the latter prompting Adele Haenel, who was nominated for best actress for "Portrait of a Lady on Fire", to storm out, crying "Shame!" and “Bravo, paedophilia”. 

Haenel has become a hero of the #MeToo movement in France after accusing the director of her first film, Christophe Ruggia, of sexually harassing her when she was only 12.

Polanski's film also picked up the honour for best costume design.

>> 'Shame' and 'Disgust': Polanski’s César award reignites #MeToo in France

Promised changes

Following the scandal, France’s National Centre for Cinema was put in charge of reforming the César Academy, including appointing 182 new administrators. Their names were made in public in September and, surprisingly, Polanski also made that list, thanks to his 2003 Oscar for “The Pianist”.

On Friday, however, Polanski decided to withdraw from the position, meaning he will neither participate in the vote for future César prize laureates nor in Tuesday’s vote confirming the academy’s new dual presidency.

Cayla, 70, has held several prestigious positions within the French TV and film industry, including at both the National Centre for Cinema and at respected Franco-German broadcaster Arte. Toledano, 49, is an experienced moviemaker whose works include the international hit “The Intouchables”.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

 

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