Roman Polanski has pulled out of presiding over the César Awards – the equivalent of the French Oscars.
The 83-year-old film director was set to give the opening speech at the César Awards on February 24 in Paris but has decided to cancel his appearance after a women’s rights group threatened to boycott the ceremony because he was chosen as the honorary host following his statutory rape admission nearly 40 years ago, a charge he is still wanted by authorities in the US for.
Polanski’s lawyer Herve Temime told France 24 in a statement: "The controversy … deeply saddened Roman Polanski and affected his family. However, in order not to disturb the Cesars ceremonies, which should focus on the cinema and not on the appointment of the (event’s) president, Roman Polanski has decided not accept the invitation … and will not preside over the next Cesars ceremonies."
On 11 March 1977, Polanksi – who is best known for his movies ‘The Pianist’, ‘Chinatown’ and ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ – was arrested at Jack Nicholson’s home after being accused by 13-year-old model Samantha Gailey or raping her.
He later pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with a minor but managed to strike a plea deal which allowed him to serve 42 days in detention while undergoing psychiatric tests.
He then fled to France in 1978 after he thought a judge was going to drop the deal and hit him with a hefty prison sentence, and he has remained there ever since.
He has also lived in his native Poland and the American authorities have spent many years trying to extradite him from the European nation.
Last month, Polanski defeated an attempt by the US to extradite him from Poland, and afterwards he said: "I’ll finally be able to feel safe in my own country."
After it was announced the controversial filmmaker had been selected to open the ceremony next month, French feminist group Osez le feminisme – which translates as Dare to be Feminist – branded the decision by the French Academy of Cinema Arts and Techniques "shameful" and urged people to protest outside the venue.
But it seems the recent petition, which raked in 62,000 signatures, set up after the announcement finally pushed Polanksi to withdraw.
However, the French Academy of Cinema Arts and Techniques called Polanski an "insatiable aesthete" and thought he should be allowed to preside at the ceremony.