The entire board of France’s César Awards resigned on Feb. 13, just 15 days before the annual ceremony was scheduled to occur. The board resigned due to widespread public criticism of its leadership abilities.
The César Awards are the French equivalent of the United States’ Oscars and honor directors, producers, actors and other members of the film community each year. A statement released by the academy reported it was an unanimous decision made “to honor those men and women who have made cinema happen in 2019, to find calm and ensure that the festival of films remains that, a festival.”
The Academy has come under criticism multiple times in recent years, but the most recent was the nomination of French-Polish director and U.S. fugitive, Roman Polanski. According to BBC, Polanski has been wanted in the U.S. since the 1970s when he admitted to raping a 13-year-old girl, but the extradition requests have repeatedly been denied. He has been accused of rape and sexual assault multiple times since the 1970s, most recently in November 2019.
Polanski was nominated for a total of 12 César awards for his 2019 film An Officer and A Spy, an act which was condemned by French Equality Minister Franck Riester. The nominations received public backlash from several women’s rights groups and activists throughout France, who cited the multiple accusations against the director.
“If rape is an art, give Polanski all the Césars,” according to an open letter from multiple feminist groups published in Le Parisien, repoted by The New York Times. “With these 12 nominations, the world of cinema gave frank and unconditional support to a rapist on the run.”
Roughly 400 prominent members of the French film community published an open letter in Le Monde on Feb. 11 criticizing the leadership abilities of the Academy’s board. The letter called the Academy “a vestige of an era that we would like to be over, that of an elitist and closed system.”
The letter published by the film community members also cited the lack of democracy in the award process, while largely staying away from the Polanski criticism, arguing the nominations and awards do not reflect the beliefs of the film community as a whole.
In order to be a member of the César Academy, a person of the film community must have two sponsors from inside the Academy and have participated in at least three films in the last five years, according to The New York Times. The members are then required to pay a subscription fee. This year, there are 4,313 members. The nomination process allows the Academy members to secretly vote films selected by the board to be nominated for an award. This voting process also determines the winner of the awards.
One of the major issues cited by the film community’s letter published in Le Monde was that, while they could vote on the movies up for awards, Academy members could not vote on leadership or representatives on the board itself.
There will be a general Academy meeting after the Feb. 28 award ceremony to determine who will replace the board members.