Roman Polanski: Women stage walkout in protest after he wins best director at Césars

Telegraph reporters
Protesters outside the ceremony accused the Cesars board of condoning sexual assault - Rafael Yaghobzadeh/AP

Several women walked out of the Cesar awards in protest last night after Roman Polanski, an accused rapist, won best director.

Polanski, whose 12 nominations have divided opinion in France, won for An Officer and A Spy, triggering a walkout by several actresses. He did not attend the ceremony, saying he feared he would be lynched.

The director, 86, fled the United States in the late 1970s before he was sentenced after admitting raping a 13-year-old girl. He also faces more recent allegations of sexual assault, which he denies.

The awards - the French equivalent of the Baftas - have been overshadowed by Polanski's nominations.

Adèle Haenel, an actress who has said she was sexually abused as a child by another director, was one of the women who walked out after Polanski's win was announced.

Haenel told the New York Times before the ceremony that France had "missed the boat" on #MeToo and criticised the Cesar Awards for recognising Polanski.

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

Protesters outside clashed with police shortly before the biggest names in French film arrived at the Pleynel concert hall, but none made it onto the red carpet. Nearby, other protesters peacefully waved placards reading "Shame on an industry that protects rapists."

Polanski's cast and production team boycotted the Cesars after Culture Minister Franck Riester said the success of a director accused of sexual violence would send the wrong signal in the #MeToo era. 

Marlène Schiappa, France's Equality Minister, had condemned the decision to nominate Polanski's film, saying she found it "impossible that a hall gets up and applauds the film of a man accused of rape several times".

Brad Pitt arrives at the 92nd Annual Academy Awards -  Steve Granitz/ WireImage

The Cesars' entire board resigned earlier this month over the row. A meeting is set to be held after the ceremony to elect a new board, which will look at modernising the institution.

But the Cesars defended the nominations, arguing that it "should not take moral positions" in giving awards.

An Officer and a Spy chronicles the persecution of French Jewish army officer Alfred Dreyfus in the 1890s. It lost out on best film to Les Miserables.

Polanski shot to fame in the United States with his 1968 Hollywood film Rosemary's Baby.

French photographer Valentine Monnier last year accused Polanski of raping her in 1975 when she was an 18-year-old model and actress. Polanski has denied the charge.

It is the second time in five months that recognition of Polanski, who was expelled last year from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences - which bestows the Oscars - has prompted disquiet.

Organisers of the Venice Film Festival drew criticism for including Polanski's work in the programme. 

Critics of the #MeToo movement in France say it is puritanical and fuelled by a hated of men.

Before the Cesars, former French film star Brigitte Bardot rallied support for Polanski.

"We should be thankful that Polanski is alive and saving French cinema from mediocrity," Bardot said on Twitter. "I judge him by his talent, not his private life."