The entire board of the César Academy, which distributes France’s equivalent of the Oscars, has resigned amid a wave of criticism of its nomination for 12 awards for a film by Roman Polanski.
The decision to honour Polanski’s An Officer and a Spy has angered feminist groups and led to calls for a boycott.
The Polish-French director has been wanted in the US for the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl since the 1970s.
Hundreds of actors, producers and directors have also called for reform.
In an open letter this week, they denounced “dysfunction” at the César Academy and opacity in its management.
The César Academy’s decision to step down en masse came as a shock ahead of the glittering 45th awards ceremony in Paris, which is to be held on 28 February.
In a statement on Thursday night, the academy said the board had “unanimously decided to resign” to “honour those men and women who made cinema happen in 2019, to find calm and ensure that the festival of film remains just that, a festival”.
“This collective decision will allow complete renewal of the board,” it added.
A general meeting is set to be held after this month’s ceremony to elect a new board, which will look at implementing reforms and modernising the institution.
Culture Minister Franck Riester said the César Academy must operate democratically, in the spirit of “openness, transparency, parity and diversity”.
What’s the background?
The César Academy has faced controversy in recent months.
Many called for a boycott when Polanski’s film An Officer and a Spy, or J’accuse in French, received 12 award nominations. The Polish-French director fled the US after his rape conviction in the 1970s, and has since faced other accusations of sexual assault.
“I am shocked. The 400 cinema professionals who voted for this nomination have applauded Polanski with 12 nominations – 12 is also the number of women today who accuse Roman Polanski of rape. This is not the field of morality, this is the field of justice,” Céline Piques, spokeswoman for French feminist organisation Osez le Féminisme (Dare to be Feminist) told French TV channel LCI at the time.
France’s equality minister, Marlène Schiappa, also condemned the decision to nominate Polanski’s film.
While praising the academy’s efforts to recognise France’s MeToo movement, Ms Schiappa said she found it “impossible that a hall gets up and applauds the film of a man accused of rape several times”.
But the Césars defended the nominations, arguing that the body “should not take moral positions” in giving awards.
Calls for ‘profound reform’
The academy, which numbers 4,700 cinema professionals, has also been criticised for being out of touch and dominated by older men. Its president since 2003, Alain Terzian, was fêted for his films in the 1980s and 90s but he has come in for criticism in recent months.
In an open letter this week, hundreds of film professionals, including actors and directors, called for “profound reform” at the academy.
The signatories, who included major figures in French cinema such as Bertrand Tavernier, Leïla Bekhti and Michel Hazanavicius, complained of a lack of democracy in the institution and said the founding statutes of the Césars had not changed “for a very long time”.
In response, the academy’s board said it would ask for a mediator to be appointed by a culture ministry agency to oversee reforms of its statutes and governance.
It is not the first time the Césars have faced controversy. In 2017, Polanski was picked to head the award’s jury, but stepped down after the move sparked outrage.
Despite the controversy surrounding the film, J’accuse was a box office hit in France at the end of 2019 and has done well in several other European countries.
Polanski has French and Polish citizenship, and has evaded various extradition attempts by US authorities.
France – where he lives – does not extradite its own citizens. A Polish court also rejected a US request when he was filming in Krakow in 2015.