French President Emmanuel Macron said French film star Gerard Depardieu – accused of rape – had become the target of a “manhunt” as the actor faces fresh scrutiny over sexism. But Macron’s stance has been met with anger by those who say he is undermining the cause of eradicating violence against women.
Depardieu, an icon of French cinema with more than 200 films to his name, was charged with rape in 2020 and has been accused of sexual harassment and assault by more than a dozen women.
He is facing fresh scrutiny over a documentary aired earlier this month that shows Depardieu on a 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.
Last week French Culture Minister Rima Abdul Malak said the actor’s behaviour had shamed France, noting that he might lose the Legion of Honour, which he received in 1996.
“You will never see me participate in a manhunt,” Macron told the France 5 broadcaster on Wednesday evening when asked about possibly stripping the actor of the prestigious state award.
“I hate that kind of thing,” he said, adding that he is a “great admirer of Gérard Depardieu (…) an immense actor”.
“He made France, our great authors, our great characters known throughout the world (…) he makes France proud”. Not a moral tool
Macron said that Malak had “spoken too soon” about removing the Legion of Honour from the actor and that the award should not be considered as “a moral tool”.
“There are sometimes outbursts over comments made. I am wary of the context,” he said. “I understand that there were controversies over parts of the report.”
Members of the Depardieu family published an open letter in the weekly newspaper Journal du Dimanche denouncing an “unprecedented conspiracy” against the actor.
French museum removes Depardieu wax sculpture as family denounces ‘conspiracy’
“It is not on the basis of a report or this or that thing that we take away the Legion of Honour from an artist because at that price, we would have taken it away from many artists,” Macron went on.
“You can accuse someone, there may be victims, but there is also a presumption of innocence that exists. Otherwise there’s a danger of falling into an era of suspicion.”
In 2017, at the height of the #MeToo movement, Macron withdrew the Legion of Honour from Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein after a series of accusations of sexual harassment and rape. An insult to women victims
The reactions to Macron’s comments over Depardieu have sparked angry reactions from the political sphere.
Olivier Faure, the head of the Socialist Party, posted a message on social media accusing Macron of not taking his election promises seriously.
“Violence against women is a major issue of Macron’s mandate … This president does not believe in any of his promises,” Faure said.
Environmentalist MP Sandrine Rousseau also spoke out on social media.
“Emmanuel Macron’s words on the subject of Depardieu are once again an insult to the movement to free the speech of victims of sexual violence,” she wrote.
Meanwhile Sophie Bussière, spokesperson for the Ecologists, portrayed the president as the “chief promoter of rape culture”.
And speaking to FranceInfo radio, Michelle Dayan, president of the Lawyers For Women NGO, said the presumption of innocence should “not be used as a pretext for not listening to women who say they are victims of violence”.
“There is above all a hunt for women in the words of Gérard Depardieu and not a hunt for men.”