Macron under fire for remarks defending film icon Depardieu

AFP , Friday 22 Dec 2023

French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday faced accusations of siding with sexual aggressors after saying film icon Gerard Depardieu, charged with rape and facing a litany of sexual assault claims, was the target of "a manhunt".

(Photo: AFP)

Depardieu, 74, who has made more than 200 films and TV series, was charged with rape in 2020 and has been accused of sexual harassment and assault by more than a dozen women.

He currently faces fresh scrutiny over sexist comments caught on camera during a trip to North Korea in 2018 that were broadcast for the first time in a documentary on national television earlier this month.

Asked in a television interview on Wednesday whether Depardieu should be stripped of France's highest state award, which he received nearly three decades ago, Macron said: "You will never see me take part in a manhunt. I hate that kind of thing.

"The presumption of innocence is part of our values."

Macron said he felt "huge admiration" for Depardieu, whom he called "an immense actor".

- 'Yawning abyss' -

But Generation.s Feministe, a feminist collective, said Macron's comments were "an insult" to all women who had suffered sexual violence, "first and foremost those who accused Depardieu".

The president's remarks were "not just scandalous but also dangerous", Maelle Noir of the Nous Toutes association told AFP, because the statements of victims were "disbelieved, and trampled on, with impunity".

"Between us and the president, there is not just a gap but a yawning abyss," she said.

Sandrine Rousseau, a Green party MP, said "Macron has picked his side -- that of the aggressors".

Anne-Cecile Mailfert, who heads association the Women's Foundation, added: "A single tweet is not enough to say how disgraceful and despicable this is towards the victims, and how behind the times."

- 'Not proud' -

France 2 television channel showed the actor on his 2018 trip to North Korea repeatedly making explicit sexual comments in the presence of a female interpreter and sexualising a small girl riding a horse.

Former president Francois Hollande told the France Inter broadcaster on Thursday he was "not proud of Gerard Depardieu" after seeing the footage.

Some voices, including cinema veterans who worked closely with him in the 1970s and 1980s, have defended the actor.

"I support Gerard, we must remain loyal to the people we love," said Fanny Ardant, a 74-year-old actor who won fame for her role opposite Depardieu in "The Woman Next Door", directed by Francois Truffaut. "What is happening is a death warrant," she told the RTL broadcaster.

Last week, French Culture Minister Rima Abdul Malak said the actor's behaviour shamed France, noting that he might be stripped of the Legion d'Honneur, the country's top award he received in 1996.

But in the interview on Wednesday, Macron said the minister may have "gone out on a limb" with her remarks.

"Sometimes people get carried away," he said.

"We don't take the Legion d'Honneur away from an artist on the basis of a TV report or whatever else, because if we started doing that, we'd have to take the Legion d'Honneur away from a lot of artists," he said.

The Legion of Honour "is not there to impose moral standards" on the recipient, Macron said.

But the left-leaning Liberation newspaper said it had been Macron who "not only went out on a limb himself but sank into indecency".

- 'Pathetic' -

Depardieu has created a number of scandals over the years, including by public brawling, drunk driving and urinating in the cabin of a commercial aircraft.

In 2012, he moved to Belgium to save on taxes, a decision the French prime minister at the time, Jean-Marc Ayrault labelled "pathetic".

In response to the gibe, Depardieu took Russian nationality the following year and has posted pictures of himself and President Vladimir Putin.

But last year, he denounced what he said were Putin's "crazy, unacceptable excesses" in the Ukraine war.

In 2017, Macron withdrew the Legion d'Honneur from Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein after a series of accusations of sexual harassment and rape.

Short link: