French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a press conference as part of a working lunch meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris on June 20, 2023. (Christophe Petit Tesson/AFP via Getty Images)
French President Emmanuel Macron has been criticized after he praised actor Gérard Depardieu, who is facing sexual misconduct allegations.
Speaking on Wednesday night on TV channel France 5, Mr. Macron—who described himself as a “big admirer” of “an immense actor”—said Mr. Depardieu “makes France proud.”
“He has made France, our great authors and our great people known the world over,” Mr. Macron said.
Mr. Depardieu, an international movie star with more than 200 films to his name, was charged with rape in 2020 and has since faced accusations of sexual misconduct from an increasing number of women.
Earlier this month, broadcaster France 2 aired a documentary which showed the actor repeatedly dropping lewd innuendos in the presence of a female interpreter and making sexual comments about a young girl riding a horse.
According to the documentary, 16 women have accused Mr. Depardieu of various acts of sexual misconduct.
The documentary prompted the French minister of culture to launch a disciplinary procedure to rescind the actor’s prestigious Order of the Legion of Honor award, a decision Mr. Macron thought was taking things too far.
“Among our values is also the presumption of innocence,” Mr. Macron said during the France 5 broadcast, arguing that the award should not be removed merely “based on a documentary.”
“You will never see me participate in a manhunt,” the French leader said. “I hate that.”
Women’s Rights Groups React
Mr. Macron’s comments have antagonized numerous French women’s rights activists.
Activist group Osez le feminisme accused the French president of living in an ivory tower. “Definitively, Emmanuel Macron doesn’t live in the same world as us,” the group wrote on X.
“We, the prey, are facing a man who describes himself as a ‘great hunter,’ yet who, in the words of the president, becomes the victim of a ‘manhunt’,” the group posted.
Maëlle Noir, from the Nous Toutes collective, told AFP that the president’s remarks “are not only scandalous, but dangerous, sending out a signal that we are continuing to disbelieve victims, trampling on their word with impunity.”
Anne-Cécile Mailfert, president of the Women’s Foundation, said on BFM TV that Mr. Macron’s comments were “very serious” because “he’s taking sides.”
Former President ‘Not Proud’
“No, we are not proud of Gérard Depardieu,” former President Francois Hollande said, denouncing his successor’s remarks during a France Inter Radio interview on Thursday.
“He talked about Gérard Depardieu, his talent and the presumption of innocence. I will tell you about the 14 women who were attacked, the women who were humiliated, the women who were upset by the scenes they saw, all these women who see through Gérard Depardieu what violence, domination and contempt can be,” he said.
Mr. Hollande recognizes “the excesses” of social media, but he questioned Mr. Macron’s stance in light of his professed agenda.
“He made [women’s issues] the big focus of his five-year term and this is how he treats the question of Gérard Depardieu?”
“Looking at a young girl riding a horse and barely 12 years old, he sexualizes her,” Mr. Hollande said, referring to the accused actor.
“No, we are not proud.”
Spanish Journalist’s Allegations
Last week, a Spanish journalist and writer named Ruth Baza filed a complaint against Mr. Depardieu, who she says sexually abused her during an interview in Paris in 1995 when she was 25.
Ms. Baza said she had buried the matter in her mind but wrote it all down in detail in her diary at the time. She said the whole episode flooded back last April when she read about accusations made by a dozen women against Depardieu.
She stated that she intends to testify to French authorities if needed.
Another complaint was filed in France in September by comedian Helene Darras for alleged sexual assault. Ms. Darras accused Mr. Depardieu of touching her bottom when she was a young extra for the 2008 film “Disco.”
In October, the actor rejected all accusations against him, and his family has denounced the accusations as an “unprecedented conspiracy” against him.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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