The César Awards, France’s equivalent of the Oscars, said on Monday that contestants found guilty or under investigation for sexual assault would be barred from next month’s ceremony, in the organization’s latest effort to restore its image.
The film industry in France, and the Académie des César in particular, have been grappling with several high-profile accusations of sexual abuse in recent years. At the end of November, the French media revealed that Sofiane Bennacer, who was considered a favorite for a César for his leading role in the film “Les Amandiers” (“Forever Young”), was under police investigation for rape and that rumors of the charges had circulated in the film industry for months.
“Out of respect for the victims”, we read in a press release from the Académie César, “it was decided not to implicate the people likely to have been implicated by the justice system in acts of violence”.
So far, the ruling only applies to this year’s ceremony, and it does not mean that someone convicted or under investigation will not be eligible for an award. The academy said it was considering a rule change regarding eligibility and a decision would be made on that this year.
Monday’s announcement came as the academy was still reeling from controversies that have rocked its credibility over 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 of being stalked by a director when she was 12.
Perhaps the biggest scandal involving the academy revolved around Roman Polanski, the director who fled the United States in 1978 awaiting sentencing for unlawful sex with a minor.
In 2017, the announcement that Mr. Polanski would preside over the Cesar ceremony sparked protests that forced him to resign. Three years later, he received the award for best director, sparking widespread outrage. Ms 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 longstanding criticism of the academy’s leadership, prompted a major overhaul of the organization. He introduced gender parity on the board and removed unelected board members, including Mr. Polanski.
The investigation into Mr. Bennacer, however, has shed light on the functioning of the academy.
In mid-November, the academy selected Mr Bennacer, 25, for the Best Newcomer award. A few days later, the newspaper Le Parisien revealed that Mr. Bennacer was the subject of an investigation into two allegations of rape and another of violence against a partner.
A later article, from the daily Liberation, revealed that rumors of the charges had been circulating long before the academy’s appointment and that the film’s producers had learned of a rape complaint at the start of filming in June 2021.
After the publication of the article in Le Parisien, the Académie des César removed Mr. Bennacer from the long list of nominees.
Mr. Bennacer has denied any wrongdoing, and “Forever Young” director Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi has come to his defense, denouncing a “media lynching”.
The Academy of Caesars said in its statement Monday that the ban on those convicted or under investigation would include a ban on speaking on their behalf at the ceremony.
Claire Lasne Darcueil, director of the National Academy of Dramatic Art, said she welcomed the academy’s decision, which she interpreted as recognition of the voices of victims.
Other allegations of sexual abuse in the French film industry remain unresolved. Among the big names who are still the subject of a police investigation include Gérard Depardieu, accused of rape and sexual assault, and Dominique Boutonnat, a producer whom the French government renewed in July as president of the National Cinema Center despite claims that he had sex. assaulted his godson.
Ms. Lasne Darcueil said there was still a lot to do. “The time when we’re all going to roll up our sleeves, come together and say this won’t happen again is still a long way off,” she noted.