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Over Fears Of 'Lynching,' Polanski Pulls Out Of French Oscars

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

France bestows its top awards for cinema tonight, the Cesars. But in the age of #MeToo, the nomination of Roman Polanski for best director has caused an uproar. Here's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PRESENTER: (Speaking French).

(APPLAUSE)

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Just like the Oscars, the Cesar awards crown France's best films and talent. But this year, feminist groups threatened to disrupt the ceremony after Roman Polanski's film "J'accuse" received nominations for 12 categories. The film, known in English as "An Officer And A Spy," is about the 19th-century scandal when army officer Alfred Dreyfus was falsely accused of treason because he was a Jew. Polanski has canceled his appearance tonight. The French-Polish director who fled the U.S. in 1977 after admitting to the crime of sex with a 13-year-old girl said in a statement that he did not want to subject himself to a public lynching at the Cesars from what he called a self-proclaimed irrational tribunal.

The head of the academy justified the nominations by saying it should not have to take moral positions. But the lifelong members of the academy are already under fire for being dinosaurs. Polanski's Cesar nominations were the last straw, says Catherine Balle, who covers cinema for newspaper Le Parisien.

CATHERINE BALLE: This storm was made possible with all the #MeToo movements and these movements who claim more democracy, diversity, respect towards women.

BEARDSLEY: In an unprecedented move, the entire academy plans to step down following tonight's ceremony.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE")

ADELE HAENEL: (As Heloise, speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: The star of another movie, "Portrait Of A Young Girl On Fire" (ph), is up for a Cesar for Best Actress. Thirty-one-year-old Adele Haenel broke a 20-year silence last fall when she accused a French director of sexually preying on her when she was just 12.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HAENEL: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Haenel's powerful testimony stunned the country. Until now, Polanski has enjoyed acclaim in France, where an artist's work and personal life are often kept separate. But that wall is crumbling.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRANCK RIESTER: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Speaking on the radio this morning, French culture minister Franck Riester said there should be no more impunity. And if Polanski wins best director, it would be a terrible symbol.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF KAKI KING'S "GREAT ROUND BURN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.