Filmmaker Roman Polanski has abandoned plans to preside over the French equivalent of the Oscars, after protests from France's women's rights minister and feminist groups prompted by decades-old U.S. sex charges against him.
It's a surprising setback for the 83-year-old director, a Holocaust survivor who is widely respected in France and whose film career has continued to flourish since he settled in Paris after fleeing the U.S. in the late 1970s.
The arts academy holding France's Feb. 24 Cesars Awards is discussing alternative options after Polanski's decision to withdraw, an academy official said Tuesday. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren't authorized to be publicly named, wouldn't comment on the reason for Polanski's decision.
Academy president Alain Terzian, in inviting Polanski to lead this year's Cesars, hailed him as an "insatiable esthete reinventing his art and works over the years.''
Women's minister Laurence Rossignol called the move "shocking." Activist groups called for protests outside the ceremony, with an online campaign accusing Polanski of being a ``criminal who drugged and raped a 13-year-old child and escaped justice.''
Polanski pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl in Los Angeles in 1977, but then fled the United States before final sentencing. He is still wanted by American judicial authorities, and is subject to an Interpol notice in 188 countries.
Longtime Polanski friend Thierry Fremaux, director of the Cannes Film Festival, said on RTL radio Tuesday that he talked to the filmmaker about his decision not to lead the Cesars, and that Polanski is "devastated'' by the criticism in France.
Polanski has won eight Cesars over his career, and won the 2003 best director Oscar for "The Pianist." However, he couldn't travel to Los Angeles to pick up that award.
He travels only to three countries to avoid extradition: France and Switzerland, where he has homes, and Poland, where he was born and survived World War II. Poland's justice minister recently revived efforts to arrest him but the Polish Supreme Court ruled against extradition.