First it was British cinema and the Bafta awards, then Hollywood and the Oscars. This week it was the turn of France’s film establishment to bow to criticism from directors and actors demanding more gender equality, ethnic diversity and transparency in the industry.
On Thursday night, the board of the association that decides the Césars — the French equivalent of the Oscars — resigned en masse just two weeks before the annual awards ceremony “to restore calm and ensure that the festival of cinema remains a festival”.
Led by the prolific 70-year-old film producer Alain Terzian, the board said: “This collective resignation will pave the way for a complete renewal.”
The surprise announcement was the culmination of months of controversy over the attitude and actions of the mostly elderly film professionals who have run the Césars for the past 17 years. It also follows a series of protests and judicial investigations into artists in French film and literature accused of rape, child abuse or sexual harassment.
Mr Terzian’s move this week was triggered by arguments about race and gender in the choices for an event in January to celebrate young actors in French cinema, and by protests over the 12 César nominations for Roman Polanski’s new film J’accuse(An Officer and a Spy). The 86-year-old director has denied fresh accusations of rape.
Four hundred people in the film industry made a public appeal on Monday to complain about the management of the 4,700-strong Académie des Césars and the exclusion from the January event of two women, Virginie Despentes and Claire Denis, as patrons of the up-and-coming actors.
Attacking a “closed and elitist system”, they said: “It’s time to consider a profound restructuring of the association’s governance methods so that they resemble those of foreign institutions and the democratic systems they apply.”
Mr Terzian — about whose attitude to women it was joked that he introduced himself by saying “Moi Terzian, toi Jane” — at first pushed back against the pressure and reportedly complained that he had been “bled dry” and that he was “fed up with these bastards — they’re all bastards”.
Defenders of the Césars have pointed out that the film Les Misérables, a gritty tale of confrontation between police and children of immigrant origin in the northern outskirts of Paris by Mali-born Ladj Ly, has also received 11 nominations for César awards.
Mr Terzian’s final climbdown, however, was seen as inevitable by French commentators in the face of mounting protests over the years about gender and ethnic discrimination in the film industry in France and elsewhere.
Television presenter and film critic Elisabeth Quin was scathing about Mr Terzian, who produced the popular comedy Les Visiteurs in the 1990s, and what she called “the old-fashioned farce” of the César awards and the influence of “old white males” in cinema and the Césars academy.
“Mr Terzian has had his day,” she said. “There was a machismo, a dad’s kind of cinema that had the wind behind it in the 1980s and 1990s but which is now sociologically and aesthetically totally out of date.”
Mr Terzian was not immediately available to comment on Friday, but before his resignation he had denied the academy was sexist and announced plans to reform it so that the gender balance of its members could be improved to 50:50 from the current ratio of 65 per cent men to 35 per cent women.
He acknowledged the organisation was run by old white men but said he could hardly expel such film greats as Claude Lelouch, aged 82, or Costa-Gavras, 87, from the board.
Additional reporting by Domitille Alain