France’s #MeToo Moment Has Finally Arrived

France’s #MeToo Moment Has Finally Arrived

The April 25 decision by the New York Court of Appeals to overturn Harvey Weinstein’s felony sex crime conviction looked like a major blow to the #MeToo movement in the U.S. and to the progress made within the U.S. film industry since 2017 (when the first allegations against Weinstein were made public).

In France, they are still waiting for that first wave of progress. The outrage triggered by #MeToo echoed across la grande nation — it even spawned a French counterpart, #Balancetonporc, or “Expose Your Pig” — but, until very recently, efforts to challenge the structure of the French entertainment industry came to very little.

That, it seems, is changing. U.S.-style measures, including the use of intimacy coordinators for sex scenes or chaperones to supervise the treatment of minors, are slowly becoming standard practice on French movie sets. #MeToo is “really at the center of our discussion now, in a way it wasn’t two years ago — and definitely wasn’t six years ago,” says French producer David Frenkel. “I guess it took a while for it to cross the Atlantic. But it’s here now.”

Last year, the Cannes Film Festival waved off criticism of its choice of opening night film: Maïwenn’s Jeanne du Barry, a period movie starring alleged abuser Johnny Depp. This year, Cannes will open its Un Certain Regard sidebar with Moi Aussi (Me Too), a short film by French actress turned activist Judith Godrèche (The Man in the Iron Mask), inspired by the more than 6,000 stories of abuse she received after she first spoke publicly about her own experiences of being groomed by much older directors when she was a teenage star during the 1980s.

There have been a number of recent watershed moments that have led to France’s belated #MeToo movement.

The multiple allegations of harassment or abuse against Gérard Depardieu — the Green Card and Cyrano de Bergerac actor will stand trial in October on charges of sexual assault brought by two women who claim he assaulted them on set of the film The Green Shutters in 2021 — sparked widespread outrage. (Depardieu denies all charges.)

A group of up-and-coming French talent, including Poor Things actress Suzy Bemba and multihyphenate Ariane Labed, in March 2022 co-founded the professional support group The Actors Association (ADA) to call for better protections on set. Speaking to THR in February during the Berlin Film Festival, Bemba said her own experiences making Catherine Corsini’s Homecoming — which came under fire in Cannes last year amid reports that its young actors, including Bemba, were not properly protected — made her realize “how important it is to speak up when something is not OK or when it doesn’t feel good for you.”

But when it comes to reigniting the long-dormant #MeToo movement and to sparking real change within the French industry, most agree it was Godrèche who made the difference.

Godrèche was a teen idol turned top-billed star who made the move to Hollywood after her performance in Patrice Leconte’s Oscar-nominated Ridicule caught the attention of L.A. agents and producers — including Weinstein, who released the film in the states. In 2017, Godrèche was one of the first group of women to come forward, recounting to The New York Times that, in Cannes in 1996, Weinstein invited her up to his hotel suite and asked to give her a massage, claiming, she said, that casual massages “were an American custom.”

The French also remember Godrèche for her breakout role, at just 14, in Les mendiants (Beggars), and they remember the very public relationship she had with the film’s director, Benoît Jacquot, 25 years her senior. The couple bought an apartment together when Godrèche was 15 (the age of sexual consent in France) and he was 40.

Decades later, thinking she’d put that all in the past, Godrèche returned to Paris to make Icon of French Cinema, a satiric comedy series she created based on her own acting career. In the show, she included an episode dealing with her experience as a 14-year-old pulled into an abusive relationship with a film director 25 years older. “I didn’t use his name because I knew the moment I did, all the talk would be about the abuser, not the work itself,” she says.

But a viewer who saw the show alerted Godrèche to a 2011 documentary in which Jacquot admitted that their relationship had been a “transgression” — he denies sleeping with her before the legal age of consent at 15 — while arguing that making films in France “is a kind of cover” for “illicit traffic.”

“Watching this man talking about me as if I were just an object, like he was the one who brought me to life, as if he had this sort of ownership of me as a child, it just sort of switched something in me,” Godrèche says. She filed a police report against Jacquot for rape of a minor. She filed another against director Jacques Doillon, whom she accuses of having sexually assaulted her during the making of his film The 15-Year-Old Girl. Godrèche told French radio that during the shoot, in which Doillon plays a father who falls in love with his son’s girlfriend (Godrèche), he demanded 45 takes for a sex scene. Both cases are still active. Both men deny the allegations.

Godrèche began to speak up more. She addressed the French Parliament and Senate and called for a government commission to investigate sex crimes and sexism in French cinema. On May 2, Parliament agreed, voting to set up a commission to assess the situation of minors working in the cinema, TV, theater, fashion and advertising sectors and to take stock of violence committed against adults within these industries. A second step will be to set new rules to protect workers from future abuse.

Godrèche also spoke at this year’s César Awards, demanding during the live broadcast for the French industry to “decide that men accused of rape no longer rule [French] cinema.” She received a standing ovation.

More evidence that things are slowly starting to change: The French film board, the CNC, is looking to draft laws requiring chaperones for minors on set. Other regulations, such as mandatory intimacy coordinators for sex scenes, are expected to follow.

“There are some positive steps, but there’s still a lot of cultural resistance in France,” says Paloma García Martens, one of only two officially certified intimacy coordinators in the country (France does not yet have its own certification process).

The CNC has a major public image problem in the form of its president, Dominique Boutonnat, who is facing criminal charges on allegations of sexually assaulting his godson in 2020. Boutonnat, who will go to trial in June, has declared his innocence. In 2022, despite the allegations being public, the French government appointed Boutonnat to serve a second mandate at the CNC.

Godrèche says she sees progress but notes that a robust #MeToo movement in France will require nothing short of “a revolution,” she says. “We have to keep banging at the door, keep up our demands until this whole world, all those who have been so comfortable abusing women and children with no rules and no consequences, finally fall.”

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