An open letter signed by 56 prominent figures defending Gérard Depardieu and suggesting the cinema giant – who has been accused of rape and sexual assault – is the victim of a “lynching” has sparked outrage in France.
Critics have accused signatories – including the British actor Charlotte Rampling, the former French first lady Carla Bruni and Depardieu’s former partner Carole Bouquet – of placing him above the law and attempting to drown out #MeToo voices.
The letter, titled “Don’t erase Gérard Depardieu”, published in Le Figaro on Monday, claimed that the star, who turned 75 on Wednesday, was the victim of a “torrent of hatred”.
Last week the French president, Emmanuel Macron, sparked anger by leaping to Depardieu’s defence after a documentary, Depardieu: the Fall of an Ogre, showed footage of the actor on a trip to North Korea in 2018 making obscene comments to and about women, sexually harassing a female translator and making sexual comments about a child at an equestrian centre.
The new letter said: “Gérard Depardieu is probably the greatest of all actors. When you attack Gérard Depardieu like this, it is art you are attacking. By his genius as an actor, Gérard Depardieu contributes to the artistic brilliance of our country.”
The novelist Samira Sedira reacted angrily to the suggestion that art was more important than actions. “I wasn’t aware that Gérard Depardieu represents art in France,” she wrote in Liberation. It’s urgent to remind his 50 defenders that Gérard Depardieu is above all a man, a citizen, an individual responsible for his acts.”
Bérénice Hamidi, a professor at the Lumière Lyon University, said the letter showed “the cultural exception of French cinema, which refuses to consider acts committed by artists as violence and condemn them”.
She told the public broadcaster France Info Culture: “There’s a willingness to drown out the victims’ voices with others that have a strong media echo, and who deny and discredit those words.
“The scale of values is clear: the lives of the women who claim to be victims of Depardieu the man are worth nothing compared to what Depardieu the artist is worth, and to denounce the actions of this person is to attack art ... According to this idea, ordinary laws don’t apply to artists.”
The activist Emmanuelle Dancourt, of the #MeTooMedia group, said she was “saddened” and “appalled” by the letter but she also understood how Depardieu’s friends felt they had to defend him. “The people who do this are our friends, our fathers, our husbands, our neighbours, our colleagues, people we know,” she said.
Geneviève Sellier, a professor of cinema studies at Bordeaux’s Montaigne University, said: “In France, artistic talent confers a power that exists nowhere else. We have the impression that the religion of art has replaced religion, with this desire to elect certain individuals to place them above others.”
Speaking to HuffPost, she said: “Those who claim to have been assaulted are the little people, the technicians, the makeup artists, the costume designers, the young actresses … those who have no social power.”
Depardieu, who has made more than 200 films and television series, was charged with rape in December 2020 after the actor Charlotte Arnould, the daughter of one of his friends, claimed he had attacked her on two occasions in 2018 when she was 22. Since then, he has been accused of sexual harassment and assault by more than a dozen women. The investigations are continuing.
In an open letter to Le Figaro in October, the actor denied all allegations, saying any encounter with Arnould had been consensual. He said he was the victim of a lynching orchestrated by a “media court”, and wrote: “Never, ever have I abused a woman.”
On Tuesday, Depardieu praised the letter of support and called the signatories “courageous”. “I thought it was beautiful,” he told the broadcaster RTL. He said he had been shown the letter before its publication but insisted he had not asked for it to be written.
Last week Macron said Depardieu had become the target of a “manhunt”, while his family has denounced an “unprecedented conspiracy” against him.
Rights activists condemned Macron’s comments as an “insult” to all women who had suffered sexual violence, with his detractors including his predecessor as president, François Hollande.
The French culture minister, Rima Abdul Malak, said Depardieu had shamed France with his comments about women and girls in the documentary and that a disciplinary procedure was in place to remove his state award, the Legion of Honour.
It is not the first time figures within France’s cinema industry have faced criticism since the beginning of the #MeToo movement, which has often been portrayed as American sexual puritanism.
In 2018 another French film legend, Catherine Deneuve, sparked a furious international backlash after she denounced the #MeToo campaign against sexual harassment as a “witch-hunt” against men.
Deneuve and about 100 other women had signed an open letter attacking the new “puritanism” of the avalanche of “denunciations” after allegations that the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein had sexually assaulted dozens of women. The letter suggested men should have the “freedom to bother” women, who could always say no.
A row over the film director Roman Polanski, who admitted to the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl in 1977, reignited in 2020 when he was named best director at the Césars, France’s equivalent of the Oscars. It prompted protests and a walkout by the actor Adèle Haenel and the director Céline Sciamma. The ceremony’s host, Florence Foresti, failed to return to close the event, saying said she was “disgusted”.
The 2011 arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund and great Socialist hope for president, in New York, where he was charged with attempting to rape a hotel maid, created another backlash over the perceived belittling of rape and sexism of leading French thinkers reacting to his case.
While the former government minister Jack Lang suggested Strauss-Kahn should be released on bail because “nobody died”, the journalist and philosopher Jean-Francois Kahn dismissed the case as a “troussage de domestique”, a phrase suggestive of French aristocrats having non-consensual sex with servants. Criminal charges were dropped against Strauss-Kahn and he settled a civil action with the maid.
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Gérard Depardieu is a prominent French actor who has appeared in over 200 films and television series. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest actors in French cinema. Depardieu has been accused of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment by multiple women. These allegations have sparked controversy and divided public opinion in France.
The #MeToo movement is a global social movement that emerged in 2017. It aims to raise awareness about the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault, particularly in the workplace, and to support survivors. The movement encourages individuals to share their experiences of harassment and assault using the hashtag #MeToo on social media platforms. It has led to increased public discourse on issues of consent, power dynamics, and accountability .
Open Letter Defending Gérard Depardieu
The open letter defending Gérard Depardieu was signed by 56 prominent figures, including actors, public figures, and Depardieu's former partners. The letter, titled "Don't erase Gérard Depardieu," was published in Le Figaro and sparked outrage in France. Critics accused the signatories of placing Depardieu above the law and attempting to silence the voices of the #MeToo movement. The letter claimed that Depardieu was the victim of a "lynching" and defended his artistic contributions to French cinema.
Criticism of the Open Letter
Critics of the open letter argue that it prioritizes the reputation and artistic contributions of Depardieu over the allegations of sexual misconduct made against him. They believe that the letter dismisses the experiences of the women who have accused Depardieu and perpetuates a culture that protects powerful individuals in the entertainment industry. Some critics also argue that the letter reflects a broader issue in French cinema, where artists' actions are not always held accountable and are sometimes excused due to their artistic talent .
French Cinema and Accountability
The open letter defending Gérard Depardieu has sparked a debate about the cultural exception of French cinema and its approach to addressing acts committed by artists. Critics argue that French cinema often refuses to consider the actions of artists as acts of violence and fails to condemn them. They suggest that there is a willingness to drown out the voices of victims with those who have a strong media presence and deny or discredit the allegations. This debate raises questions about the application of ordinary laws to artists and the power dynamics within the industry .
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