Full board of France's Cesar film awards steps downFebruary 14, 2020 5:38pm

PARIS (AP) — The entire leadership of the Cesar Awards, France's version of the Oscars, has stepped down in a spat over both its opaque decision-making process and controversial director Roman Polanski, whose new film leads this year's nominations.

The decision by the academy's influential board to resign en masse came Thursday evening, just two weeks before the glitzy 2020 award ceremony.

Multiple nominations for Polanski's “An Officer and a Spy” triggered calls by feminist groups for a boycott of the awards as an expression of outrage against the ceremony and the director. He was accused of sexual assault by a French woman just three months ago, allegations he denies.

Nominating Polanski's movie in 12 categories this year represented a last straw for the already-roiled academy board, who had expressed frustration over the closed nature of the age-old award's decision-making structure.

“To honor the men and women who made cinema happen in 2019, to find calm and ensure that the festival of film remains just that, a festival, the board ... has decided to resign unanimously," the academy said in a statement.

"This collective decision will allow complete renewal,” it added.

Polanski has been a fugitive from the U.S. for more than four decades after pleading guilty in 1977 to unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl. He fled the U.S. in 1978. But in November, French daily Le Parisien reported claims from a French woman that she was assaulted at age 18 in 1975 by Polanski at his chalet in Gstaad, Switzerland.

Several interviews with actors Jean Dujardin and Louis Garrel were cancelled because of the controversy, but yet it did nothing to lessen the movie's meteoric rise to the top of the Cesar's nominations list.

The awards ceremony is set for Feb. 28.

The unprecedented walk out comes just days after hundreds of French cinema figures published an open letter in newspaper Le Monde, branding the Cesar Academy “a vestige of an era that we would like to be over.“ They claimed in the letter to have “no voice” in how the "elitist and closed system” operates.

“Why can’t the 4,700 members of the academy vote to elect their representatives, as is the case at the Oscars, BAFTAs and European Academy of Cinema?” the signatories said.

The academy pledged to “modernize” the awards, and make the voting body — which is 65% male — more diverse.

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