Disturbing allegations have emerged from the heart of the French film industry, as two-time César Award winner Adèle Haenel has accused renowned director Christophe Ruggia of sexually harassing her between the ages of 12 and 15.
In a move likely to reignite the stalling #MeToo movement in France, 30-year-old Haenel, one of France’s leading actors, revealed she was inspired to share her story after watching the groundbreaking documentary Leaving Neverland, about the accusations of child abuse levelled against the late Michael Jackson.
Ruggia, 54, has subsequently been expelled from the French Director’s Guild (SRF), an organisation he previously headed as Co-President.
The French film industry, like Hollywood, has a systematic problem with predatory men in powerful positions, but the #MeToo movement (known as #BalanceTonPorc, or “out your pig”) was far less effective in France than in America, with many blaming cultural notions of flirtation and seduction for standing in the way of fundamental change.
Perhaps France’s most famous actor, Gerard Depardieu, has been accused of rape in 2018 (the charge later dropped), and famed director of Taken and Leon: The Professional, Luc Besson, starting dating his second wife when he was 31 and she was 15, and has been accused of rape by several women. Prominent figures in French television, such as the head of popular channel TF1 and a leading presenter on TV channel LCP, have also faced serious allegations with minor consequences.
A recent BBC poll showed that nearly 60% of French women reported inappropriate behaviour from men, and over 40% have reported non-consensual touching.
Despite this, last year actor Catherine Deneuve and 99 other prominent women from French society signed an open letter comparing #MeToo to a witch-hunt and a new form of puritanism. Many French people of previous generations see #MeToo as a form of unwanted cultural imperialism, infringing on the traditionally sexually liberal attitudes of continental Europe, which raises troubling barriers against accountability.
Hopefully, after Haenel’s explosive accusations, we might see more victims speaking up in a more believing environment, and more predatory men being held to account. French cinema needed its watershed moment, and now it has come.
By Max Ingleby