Roman Polanski will no longer preside over the César film awards in France, the filmmaker’s lawyer announced Tuesday.
“In order not to disturb the César ceremony, which should be centered on cinema and not on its choice of host, Roman Polanski has decided not to accept the invitation,” Hervé Temime said in a statement to the media.
The Académie des Arts et Techniques du Cinéma, which organizes the French equivalent of the Oscars, had selected Polanski to serve in an honorary role as president last week. The appointment immediately sparked backlash, because of rape charges Polanski still faces in the U.S. for sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl in 1977, and resulted in 61,000 signatures on a petition.
Polanski, a writer and director best known for “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Tess,” “Chinatown” and “The Pianist,” has won 8 César Awards over the course of his career, and won his only Oscar in 2003 for directing “The Pianist.”
“Artist, film-maker, producer, screenwriter, actor, director – there are many words to define Roman Polanski,” the Académie said last week when announcing his role at this year’s Feb. 24 ceremony. “But there is only one to express our admiration and enchantment: thank you, Mr President.”
Laurence Rossignol, the French minister for families, children and women’s rights, called the Académie’s decision “shocking and surprising,” according to the New York Times.
The Guardian quoted Claire Serre-Combe of Osez le Féminisme (Dare Feminism) as calling Polanski’s involvement “shameful.”
“We cannot let this pass,” Serre-Combe said. “Making Polanski president is a snub to rape and sexual assault victims. The quality of his work counts for nothing when confronted with the crime he committed, his escape from justice and his refusal to face up to his responsibilities.”
Polanski’s lawyer also said the outrage was “based on false information” and that the filmmaker was “deeply saddened” by it.
Polanski, now 83, pled guilty in 1977 to having sex with a 13-year-old girl. He served 42 days in jail after a plea bargain, but later fled the United States to avoid a potentially stiffer penalty, should the agreement have been overturned.
Last December, Poland’s supreme court denied the United States’ request to extradite Polanski, finally bringing the matter to a close. His victim publicly came out against extradition.