Anti-Polanski protesters clash with French police outside award ceremony

PARIS (Reuters) - French police clashed briefly on Friday with protesters over an awards ceremony in which a film by veteran director Roman Polanski, who is facing rape accusations, has won a dozen nominations.

Polanski, 86, who fled the United States for France in the late 1970s after admitting raping a 13-year-old girl and faces more recent allegations of sexual assault, has already said he would not attend Friday's ceremony, fearing a "public lynching".

One group of protesters pulled down a barrier outside the Pleyel concert hall, where the Cesar Awards ceremony was taking place, and tear gas hung in the air, but no protesters made it onto the red carpet, a Reuters witness said.

Two activists detained by police chanted: "We're women and proud."

Nearby, other protesters peacefully waved placards reading "Shame on an industry that protects rapists."

Polanski denies the latest accusations against him.

The nominations for 'An Officer and a Spy', including best film and best director, have split opinion in France, a country where the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment has struggled to gain traction.

The film's cast and production team said they would boycott Friday's Cesar Awards after the French culture minister earlier said the success of a director accused of sexual violence would send the wrong signal in the #MeToo era.

Feminists, numerous actresses and swathes of the public reacted with outrage after Polanski's film emerged as a favorite to win best movie, prompting the management of the Cesar Academy to resign en masse earlier this month.

"It would send a bad message," Culture Minister Franck Riester told franceinfo radio when asked about the prospect of Polanski scooping best director.

"SPITTING IN FACE OF ALL VICTIMS"

The film chronicles the persecution of French Jewish army officer Alfred Dreyfus in the 1890s.

Producer Alain Goldman later criticized Riester for making a "damning statement" without knowing the outcome of the secret vote for the Cesar Awards.

"Alas, despite the film's 12 nominations at the 2020 awards, we have witnessed a surge in misplaced and violent comments and actions," Goldman said.

Actress Adele Haenel, who in late 2019 said she had been abused by another director as a child, told the New York Times that France had "missed the boat" on #MeToo and criticized the Cesar Awards for honoring Polanski.

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

Polanski said he would not attend the ceremony because "activists are already threatening me with a public lynching".

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 accusation.

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

Ahead of 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."

(Reporting by Richard Lough and Elizabeth Pineau; Editing by Gareth Jones)

02/28/2020 18:53

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