Cannes Kicks Off With #MeToo Controversy, Honoring ‘a Sexist Homophobe’ Accused of Domestic Abuse
The 2019 Cannes Film Festival kicked off with the premiere of a Bill Murray-starring vampire film—and plenty of controversy over its decision to honor notorious actor Alain Delon.
CANNES, France—What a difference a year doesn’t make.
In May 2018, at the opening night of the Cannes Film Festival, 82 women, including Cate Blanchett, Ava DuVernay and the late Agnes Varda, led a historic protest for women’s rights and equality in the film industry. They climbed the iconic red-carpeted steps here on the Croisette and silently locked arms. This year, it was as if that never happened. Instead, festival officials plan to give one of France’s most controversial actors an honorary Palme d’Or on Sunday.
An uproar over the decision to honor France’s legendary bad boy of cinema, Alain Delon, 83, erupted just hours before the festival officially opened Tuesday. A petition asking the festival to withdraw the award because of Delon’s well-known misogyny and problematic politics has gathered more than 18,000 signatures so far.
Delon, the star of Le Samouraï and L’Eclisse, has a history of domestic violence. He’s also openly expressed homophobic views and was once friendly with Jean-Marie Le Pen, the anti-Semitic founder of France’s far-right National Front (now called National Rally) party.
“Alain is an old, depressed ex-movie star who goes on TV shows and spouts misogynistic and homophobic insults,” said Carole Raphaelle Davis, the co-founder of #MeToo France and a veteran TV (Madam Secretary) and film actress who divides her time between France and Los Angeles.
“Cannes should ditch the old white guy syndrome and honor a woman, not a sexist homophobe. Either that, or make him wear high heels on the red carpet like they make the women do. And make him wear them to the after-parties, too.”
In November, during an interview on French television, Delon was cavalier about accusations of domestic violence made by his estranged son.
“If a slap is macho, then I am macho,” Delon said. He added that women had also hit him and that he had never “broken” a woman. Delon has also called homosexuality “unnatural” on TV and said that gay couples should not have the right to adopt.
In France, since the beginning of 2019, 51 women have been murdered by their significant other, Davis pointed out. “In the light of France’s shocking and deadly domestic violence figures, they should dump Delon.”
Despite the outrage over Delon, the festival’s longtime president Thierry Frémaux tersely shut the complaints down before the start of the festival Tuesday.
“We’re not giving Alain Delon the Nobel Peace Prize,” said Frémaux. “Delon is free to have those opinions even if I don’t share them. Today it is very difficult to reward or honor somebody because there is a politically correct police that falls on you. We will be honoring Alain Delon with 100% enthusiasm.”
Melissa Silverstein, the founder of Women and Hollywood, sounded the alarm about Delon two weeks ago but she said nobody paid attention until a woman named Marguerite started the petition.
“Does anyone have a memory bank?” Silverstein asked in an interview with The Daily Beast. “Choosing Delon after more than a year of #MeToo? And you know it’s not just about his treatment of women, it’s also his racism and his anti-Semitism. He hits every single button embodying everyone in the world agrees are not values we want to have anymore. Honoring these values just doesn’t make sense.”
“You’d think French people would be up in arms about this. It is so tone-deaf.”
But according to Frémaux, Delon is from another generation and should not be judged on his past behavior.
In an interview with Italian Vanity Fair six years ago, Delon’s youngest son Alain-Fabien said that he did not consider himself abused by his father but described his dad’s violent temper. He also claimed that the elder Delon had once broken eight of his mother’s ribs and her nose (twice).
Delon Sr. angrily denounced his son’s accusations at the time, saying he just made up things for the money. Tellingly, however, Delon never sued the magazine for slander. French libel laws are far more stringent than those in the U.S. and Delon might have had a chance of winning if he could prove the allegations were false.
Delon’s spokesman was not available for comment Tuesday.
Many of the French weighing in on Twitter seemed to be pro-Delon and angry at the perceived unfairness and political correctness of the demand to pull his award.
“As French and as woman, I’ll give you an advice (sic),” tweeted Ilanne22. “Don’t dare to touch Alain Delon with your fucking new McCarthyism. You are just so ridiculous. He deserves the Palme. That’s a fact.”
Frémaux and festival officials could come under further fire when Quentin Tarantino arrives here with his widely anticipated new film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the story of the 1969 Sharon Tate murder.
Tarantino apologized to Uma Thurman after she detailed his mistreatment of her during the filming of Kill Bill and said he regretted saying that Roman Polanski’s 13-year old rape victim was “down with it” when the assault took place in 1977.
Frémaux signed a pledge last year to improve gender parity; only four female directors are among the 21 selected to show their films in the prestigious competition section this year.
“People ask Cannes to do things they don’t ask other festivals to do,” he claimed. “The Cannes Film Festival is asked to be impeccable and perfect. No one has asked me to have 50% of films made by women. That would show a lack of respect.”