The César Awards are characterized as France’s answer to the Oscars. And just like their awards show cousin halfway across the world, the Césars are embroiled in controversy after failing to nominate any women directors.
This year’s Academy Awards were slammed by advocacy groups after ignoring the likes of Gina Prince-Bythewood (“The Woman King”) and Sarah Polley (“Women Talking”) in favor of an all-male contingent of auteurs. The Césars have followed suit with an all-male group of directing nominees, despite a banner year for French female filmmakers. It’s one that saw directors from Alice Diop (“Saint Omer”) to Claire Denis (“Stars at Noon”) dominating the festival circuit and scoring prizes, only to come up short when the Césars unveiled their contenders on Jan. 25. The omission has sparked a debate about gender equity and sexism in the French film business, as well as social media protests emblazoned with the hashtag #CesarsSoMale, an allusion to the #OscarsSoWhite campaign that erupted in 2015 when the Academy nominated an all-white group of acting nominees.
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“It’s so embarrassing to see that in a country like France we’ve gone backward,” says Guslagie Malanda, the star of Diop’s film “Saint Omer.”
Malanda was “struck” to see that no female directors were nominated at the Césars in a year when “many films directed by women got well financed and were championed by critics and even made money at box office.”
Indeed, that’s what makes their omission galling to critics of the Césars. Rebecca Zlotowski’s “Other People’s Children” and Alice Winocour’s “Paris Memories,” for instance, weren’t just festival favorites, they were also among the highest-grossing local films of 2022. But of those, only Diop’s and Winocour’s movies earned nominations. Diop is vying for four awards, including female newcomer for Malanda, while Winocour’s film earned a best actress nomination for Virginie Efira.
The best film category, meanwhile, has only one title from a female director, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi’s “Forever Young,” which premiered at Cannes. The movie, which was produced by the vice president of the César Academie, Patrick Sobelman, was plagued by scandal upon its French theatrical release in November when the movie’s star, Sofiane Bennacer, was indicted on rape charges.
What’s frustrating to critics of the Césars is that this year’s nominations come after the César Academie, the organization behind the awards, instituted an overhaul of its leadership — this after it was criticized for giving convicted rapist Roman Polanski a best director prize in 2020. Since that time the group has achieved gender parity within its board and actively recruited women voters. Their percentage has grown from 30% in 2020 to 40.5% in 2022.
Marie-Ange Luciani, the producer of “BPM (Beats per Minute)” and a board member of the César Academie, says that among the 520 recently joined members, 69% are women. But, she says, some members failed to vote for nominations. While the César Academie counts 4,705 members, only about 67% of them cast ballots.
Sabrina Van Tassel, the director of the documentary “The State of Texas vs. Melissa” and a member of advocacy group Pour les Femmes dans les Médias, says, “Films directed by women were the ones that were most talked about internationally.” She notes that “Other People’s Children” played at Sundance and “Saint Omer” won at Venice, yet both came up short in the director’s race. “It makes you wonder if voters watch movies,” she says.
Some observers believe that women were left out of the category because it was reduced from seven nominees to five in an effort to shorten the show. But “Saint Omer’s” Malanda has other ideas about why Diop, the director who guided her lauded performance, was snubbed.
“As a woman, you always have to work twice as hard to gain recognition,” she says.
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