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France’s Cesar Awards Nominations Spotlight Women and Ethnic Minorities

PARIS — While this year’s Academy Awards have been heavily criticized over the lack of diversity in nominees, back in France, a record number of women and ethnic minorities will be competing in major categories at the Cesar Awards.

Making up half of the directors nominated at the Cesar Awards, “Mustang’s” Deniz Gamze Ergüven, “Standing Tall’s” Emmanuelle Bercot and “Mon Roi’s” Maïwenn will compete for best helmer.

Looking back, only one woman, Céline Sciamma (“Girlhood”), competed for a best director Cesar last year. In 2014, there were none; in 2013, there was just Noemie Lvovsky with “Camille Rewinds”; and in 2012 (a stellar year for French movies), Maiwenn and Valerie Donzelli competed with “Polisse” and “Declaration of War,” respectively.

In terms of representing ethnic minorities and including foreign-language movies into its mix, the Cesar Awards have also come a long way. Both “Dheepan” and “Mustang,” nominated for nine Cesar Awards each, aren’t shot in French.

Although “Mustang” is lead produced by Charles Gillibert and directed by Ergüven, a French-Turkish first-timer, the film is shot in Turkish with local actresses; while “Dheepan” lensed in Tamil with unknown Sri Lankan actors. “Dheepan’s” lead actor Antonythasan Jesuthasan scored a best actor nomination for his performance as a refugee from war-torn Sri Lanka who faces another kind of war in Paris’ housing projects.

“Mustang” was also unexpectedly chosen by the French selection committee to represent Gaul in the foreign-language Oscar race — a bold choice that’s paid off so far since the movie has made it on the final list, making Ergüven the only female director nominated at the Oscars for a narrative feature.

Back in 2010, the French Academy of Arts and Sciences President Alain Terzian, who is also part of the French selection committee for the Oscars, told Variety that the Cesar Awards wouldn’t consider foreign films in categories other than the foreign-language one.

“To be considered for any other prize, a film has to be French and shot in French,” said Terzian back then, citing Adrian Brody’s win for “The Pianist” as an exception.

“French Academy members may have taken notice of what happened at the Oscars this year. In any case, the nominations of French-Turkish, French-Algerian and French-Moroccan films like ‘Mustang,’ ‘Fatima’ or ‘Much Loved’ are in themselves a victory for our cinema and industry,” said Edouard Waintrop, topper of the Cannes Film Festival’s Directors’ Fortnight who had selected all three movies, along with Arnaud Desplechin’s “My Golden Years,” which is competing for 11 Cesar Awards.

Jesuthasan isn’t the only ethnic minority repped in the Cesars’ main categories. Soria Zeroua, who toplines in “Fatima” as an immigrant from Algeria working as a maid in France and raising her two daughters, is nominated for best actress, while her co-star Zita Hanrot is vying for best supporting actress. Loubna Abidar, the star of Nabil Ayouch’s “Much Loved,” which was banned in Morocco, is also competing for best actress. A Moroccan thesp, Abidar has relocated to France after being physically assaulted in Marrakech a few months ago because she portrayed a prostitute in “Much Loved.”

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