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Why Gerard Depardieu Is a Watershed Moment for #MeToo in France



A decade ago, Gerard Depardieu played Dominique Strauss-Kahn — the disgraced former head of the International Monetary Fund who was accused of assaulting a hotel maid — in Abel Ferrara’s “Welcome to New York.” In an ironic twist, the iconic French actor has now become the poster boy for France’s #MeToo movement, having been charged with rape and faced with over a dozen sexual assault allegations.

But the French remain divided over him due to his profile as the mascot of the country’s cinematic history. He’s starred in over 150 films, including classics such as Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s “Cyrano de Bergerac,” François Truffaut’s “Le Dernier Metro” and Bertrand Blier’s “Going Places.” However, the tide is starting to shift — while French President Emmanuel Macron refused to revoke his Legion of Honor, the Paris wax museum went ahead and removed his statue on Dec. 18.

Indeed, Depardieu has triggered a watershed moment for the #MeToo movement in France in a way that cases involving directors Roman Polanski and Christophe Ruggia failed to accomplish. But why Depardieu, and why now?

In 2020, Depardieu was indicted on rape charges in connection to a 2018 lawsuit filed by actor Charlotte Arnould. But that was not enough to stall his career — he even presented a movie, “Robuste,” on the opening night of Cannes’ Critics Week in 2021. Then in April of last year, Depardieu was accused of sexual misconduct by 13 women in an investigative story that ran in Mediapart.

But the Depardieu scandal really began snowballing after the Dec. 7 broadcast of a bombshell documentary showing raw footage of the actor making sexually inappropriate and obscene jokes, including one about a child riding a pony, during a shoot in North Korea. The documentary, which aired on public broadcaster France Televisions and was viewed by a near-record 2.2 million people, revealed that a second actor, Hélène Darras, had also filed a complaint against him alleging that he had sexually assaulted her during the filming of “Disco” in 2007. The Paris prosecutor’s office told Variety that the complaint was being investigated internally. In the wake of the documentary, Spanish journalist Ruth Baza also said she had filed an official complaint against the actor in Spain after being allegedly assaulted during interview in Paris in 1995, which is beyond the 20-year statue of limitation in France. Depardieu has not been convicted in connection to any of the allegations and denies any wrongdoing.

Since the documentary aired, several #MeToo-related events have surfaced in France. Judith Godrèche, the 51-year-old actor-turned-director, has spoken out about about being sexualized and feeling entrapped at the age of 14 by filmmaker Benoit Jacquot, who directed her in “La Desenchantée,” for which she won a Cesar award. Godreche, who had previously accused Weinstein of harassing her in 1996 in Cannes, alluded to her encounter with Jacquot in her semi-autobiographical show “Icon of French Cinema” and posted on social media addressing how their relationship had been “romanticized by the media,” even though it was about an “adult taking advantage of his power over me.” “The little girl in me can’t silence that name any longer,” she wrote. “I’m afraid. Of not working again. Of not being supported. But I must do it. For our little girls. For our little sisters. His name is Benoit Jacquot.” A representative for Jacquot did not immediately respond to Variety‘s request for comment.

Another case involves actor-turned-director Samuel Theis (“Anatomy of a Fall”), who has been accused of rape by a crew member on his third directorial outing, “Je le jure.” Upon hearing of the alleged incident halfway through the shoot, producer Caroline Bonmarchand tapped an independent organization to conduct an investigation. While the probe ultimately found no evidence of abuse, Bonmarchand isolated Theis from the shoot and he directed the remainder of the film remotely. It was the first time ever such step had been taken by a French film producer. 

Iris Brey, a Franco-American film critic and feminist scholar who recently penned and directed the TV series “Split,” compares Depardieu’s downfall to that of Harvey Weinstein in the U.S.

“It’s been a huge media event, everybody’s been talking about it for a month. Just like with Harvey Weinstein, it started with 13 women accusing him of sexual misconduct, three of which are rape,” Brey says. “But they’re different kinds of beasts. Harvey Weinstein made Hollywood but wasn’t loved by people, whereas Depardieu has shaped French cinema and he is adored by the French, including our president.” 

In France, the progress brought by #MeToo has been commonly rejected by the most conservative voters and outwardly embraced by those in the center and left. But Sophie Lainé Diodovic, a casting director (“Toni, en famille”) who is a key figure of the feminist org 50/50, says France’s cultural attitude has kept the movement from going far.

The #MeToo movement doesn’t have as many supporters in France as in the U.S. or the U.K., Diodovic says, because “French culture celebrates freedom, transgression in the arts.”

“But arts should not serve as an excuse to unacceptable behavior that ordinary people aren’t allowed to do,” she adds. 

The Depardieu case illustrates how crucial it is to create a safe environment on set where those who are in vulnerable positions are too often disregarded to please the most powerful actors.

“They’re extras, interns, so they’ll suffer and keep quiet,” Diodovic says. “We all know that on every shoot with Depardieu, women were being warned to be careful around him, but we would also hear things from a previous century like, ‘Oh, but he doesn’t act on his words and those who talk the most are those who do the least.’”

France has indeed been at the crux of the post-#MeToo debate about separating art from the artist, financing and honoring Roman Polanski’s biggest hit in recent history, “An Officer and a Spy,” and producing and distributing Woody Allen’s movies, including his latest one “Coup de Chance.”

“In the U.S., when the #MeToo movement emerged with all the testimonies from victims of Harvey Weinstein, there was an almost immediate emotion and sense of solidarity with them,” Brey says. “But in France, the empathy has been on the side of aggressors. It’s France’s rape culture.” 

Despite people defending Depardieu for years, she says the footage showed in the documentary “really struck an emotional chord in a way and it was watched by people who had probably not been interested by the stories that ran before.” 

Whereas French stars tend to remain tight-lipped when it comes to commenting on #MeToo matters in fear of ruffling feathers, the Depardieu shockwave has been such that famous talent like Sophie Marceau and Laure Calamy have taken a stand against the actor’s behavior. However, others like Pierre Richard and Carole Bouquet signed an op-ed to show their support of Depardieu, though they have since backtracked after learning that the letter had been penned by an artist with close ties to the far-right, Yannis Ezziad. 

Depardieu has polarized the country even more than the tough immigration policy endorsed by Macron’s government around the same time that the documentary was released. Macron, who was invited on the primetime show “C à Vous” to discuss the immigration bill, even weighed in on it, saying the actor “makes France proud” and that he’ll “never be seen engaging in a manhunt” because he believes in the “presumption of innocence.” While Culture Minister Rima Abdul Malak suggested Depardieu’s Legion of Honor could potentially be revoked amid new accusations of sexual assault, Macron said it was out of the question.

As the Depardieu fallout continues, the org 50/50 has been pushing for a new plan to expand its existing workplace safety workshop beyond producers so that every crew member and actor would now have to complete the three-day training prior to filming. 

Besides the workshop and the appointment of an on-set sexual harassment representative, the 50/50 org has also been lobbying for the hiring of an intimacy coordinators on film shoots. Brey was the first TV director to impose one on her shoot, “Split,” which involves a lesbian romance. 

“It’s the responsibility of producers to impose an intimacy coordinator on shoots and ensure everyone’s safety,” Brey says. “It’s like a stunt coordinator, it’s a necessity.”

The scholar argues that even if the Depardieu case vanishes as abruptly as it came into light, it will have “raised awareness as to why France’s beloved freedom of expression shouldn’t be a free pass for sexual harassment.”


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