Iconic French actor Alain Delon is to be awarded an honorary Palme d’Or on Sunday despite criticism over past comments he’s made deemed racist and sexist and a petition urging the Cannes Festival not to go ahead with the move.
The Cannes Film Festival announced last month it would honour Delon, 83, for his career, prompting near-immediate criticism from feminist groups.
Melissa Silverstein, founder of Women and Hollywood, which advocates for gender diversity in the global film industry, said that by awarding Delon the honorary Palme d’Or, the festival was espousing the actor’s “abhorrent values”.
In past interviews, the actor described himself as “macho” and admitted slapping women he’s been in relationships with. He has also come out against adoption for same-sex couples and talked about his friendship with Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of the French far-right National Front party, whom he served with during the Indochina wars.
Osez le féminisme, a French feminist collective, also condemned the festival for its decision, writing on Twitter: “no honours for aggressors!”
“DID #METOO not teach us anything? We demand that the Cannes Film Festival refuses to honour a misogynist aggressor,” it added, referring to the global movement against sexual harassment and abuse born in late 2017 following revelations of widespread abuse in the film industry.
A petition urging the festival not to hand the French actor the honorary award has also gathered more than 25,000 signatures. It states that “there is no place in such an important event for racists, sexists and homophobes”.
But Thierry Frémaux, Executive Officer of the Cannes Film Festival, defended the decision telling reporters earlier this week that “it’s hard to judge today things that have happened or were said a few years ago”.
The festival had previously told Variety, an entertainment media outlet, that it was honouring Delon “because he is a legendary actor and part of Cannes history, as we did for Clint Eastwood, Woody Allen and Agnès Varda. After Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean-Pierre Léaud, it seemed crucial for us to celebrate the iconic actor Alain Delon.”
The actor, best known for his roles in The Leopard (1963), Le Samouraï (1967) and The Swimming Pool (1968), also addressed the controversy in an interview published on Sunday in Le Journal du Dimanche.
“I said I slapped a woman? Yes. And I should have added that I received more slaps than I gave. In my life, I have never harassed a woman,” he said.
“They try to stick the far-right label on me because I said I was friend with [Jean-Marie] Le Pen since the army. No, I am right-wing, period,” he added.
Delon has chosen to have his 1976 movie “Mr. Klein” screened as part of his award celebration. The movie, directed by Joseph Losey and produced by Delon, delves into anti-semitism and discrimination with the actor playing an art dealer in Nazi-occupied France who is erroneously believed to be Jewish and rounded-up for deportation.
The Cannes Festival was heavily criticised in recent years for his lack of gender diversity and also came under fire for its dress code after it emerged in 2015 that women had been barred from attending screenings because they were wearing flat shoes.