The leadership of the 'French Oscars', the César awards, announces its resignation en masse
Roman Polanski AFP / Lionel BONAVENTURE

The leadership of the César awards, known as France’s equivalent of the Oscars, has collectively stepped down, it announced Thursday evening. The resignation en masse comes just 15 days before the awards' annual ceremony.

The academy has been subject to recent criticism denouncing the opacity of its management and controversy over director Roman Polanski, whose latest film leads nominations ahead of the 2020 awards.

“To honour those men and women who made cinema happen in 2019, to find calm and ensure that the festival of film remains just that, a festival, the board... has unanimously decided to resign,” the academy said in a statement.

“This collective decision will allow complete renewal of the board,” it added.

A general meeting will be held after the upcoming awards ceremony to elect a new board and management which will work on implementing reforms and modernisation, it said.

A demand for 'profound reform'

On Tuesday, more than 200 actors, producers, directors and movie personalities demanded "profound reform" of France's equivalent of the Oscars executive, the César Academy, which they accused of being out of touch.

The academy had already been under fire after Polanski's new film "An Officer and a Spy" topped the list of nominations for this year's César awards which will be handed out on February 28.

<< Read more: The ‘French Oscars’, under fire, brace for a Polanski showdown >>

Polanski has been wanted in the US for the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl since 1978 and is persona non grata in Hollywood.

But the César Academy has also been widely criticised for allegedly excluding director Claire Denis and writer Virginie Despentes, both considered feminist activists, from a ceremony to announce the contenders for this year's Césars.

In an open letter, dozens of film industry personalities – including actors Omar Sy, Bérénice Bejo and Jean-Pierre Bacri, producer siblings Eric and Nicolas Altmayer as well as director Jérôme Salle – denounced "dysfunction" at the academy and an "opaqueness" of its accounts.

They also complained that the founding statutes of the Césars had not changed "for a very long time" and that the academy's nearly 5,000 paid-up members do not get a vote or a say in its decisions.

The academy's board, in response to the letter, said it would ask the National Centre for Cinema, a culture ministry agency, to appoint a mediator that will be in charge of "deep reform" of its statutes and governance.

It previously announced measures to boost female representation in its membership and representation.

The inclusion of Polanski's film on the César shortlist was condemned by France's equality minister, women's groups and film critics, but the César Academy said it could not be expected to take "moral positions" when awarding films.

A number of French feminist groups published an open letter on the website of the daily Le Parisien late Tuesday urging César voters to snub Polanski's film, which is titled "J'accuse" in France.

"To celebrate an abuser like Polanski is to support the system of impunity for male violence, and silence the voices of the victims," the letter said.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)