By Maureen Lee Lenker
February 28, 2020 at 08:30 PM EST
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Gaumont; Inset: Francois G. Durand/Getty Images

Roman Polanski won another award for his work Friday night, but there were more jeers than cheers from the audience.

Friday night, the 86-year-old director won the Cesar Award for Best Director for his new film An Officer and a Spy, known as J'Accuse in France, prompting protests from attendees. According to reports from journalists in attendance, French actress Adèle Haenel promptly left the room at the announcement of his win, followed by others, including director Céline Sciamma and actress Noémie Merlant, all of whom worked on French hit Portrait of a Lady on Fire.

Haenel has previously criticized the Cesars for honoring Polanski, who was not in attendance at the ceremony. Last year, she accused Christopher Ruggia, the director of her first film The Devils, of sexually harassing her at the age of 12. He has denied the allegations.

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The ceremony was already beset by protestors, with several feminist groups demonstrating outside the Salle Pleyel in Paris where the ceremony was being held. Polanski and his film were up for 12 nominations; he also won for adapted screenplay alongside his co-writer Robert Harris.

This is Polanski's fifth Best Director Cesar win, the record for a single director; he previously won for Tess, The Pianist, The Ghost Writer, and Venus in Fur.

Protests came in response to nominations for Polanski, who has been accused by multiple women of sexual misconduct over the years. He was convicted of statutory rape in 1978, after pleading guilty the previous year to a charge of drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl. He fled the United States on the eve of his sentencing and has been a fugitive from the U.S. criminal justice system for over three decades. Polanski has denied all new allegations made against him in the years since, many of which are decades old.

An Officer and a Spy dramatizes the 19th century Dreyfus affair, in which a French officer was unjustly convicted of treason. The film led the Cesar Awards, the French equivalent of the Oscars, with 12 nominations. This and other issues prompted an outcry earlier in February when more than 400 members of the French Academy signed an open letter in French newspaper Le Monde calling the Academy's leadership both dysfunctional and "a vestige of an era that we would like to be over, that of an elitist and closed system."

In response, the entire board collectively resigned with a statement that read, "To honor those who made films in 2019, to regain serenity and make the cinema festival a celebration, the board of directors of the Académie des Arts et Techniques du Cinéma made a unanimous decision to resign. This collective resignation will allow the complete renewal of the association’s management."

Outside of the board, feminist groups including the Feminist Collective Against Rape, the International Association of Victims of Incest, and Tolerance Zero also wrote open letters in the French paper Le Parisien, titled "If Rape Is an Art, Give Polanski All the Césars," protesting the 12 nominations. "12 César nominations for Roman Polanski’s J’accuse. 12, like the number of women who accuse him of pedo-criminal rape," they wrote, referring to various accusations of sexual assault against the director.

In response to the protests, Polanski announced in a statement he would not attend the awards, citing his anticipation of a "public lynching." All of the nominees from the An Officer and a Spy were no-shows at the ceremony.

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