The Cannes Film Festival is going forward with its decision to award an honorary Palme d’Or to Alain Delon despite criticism from the U.S. organization Women and Hollywood over comments that the veteran French actor has made about slapping women, opposing the adoption of children by same-sex parents and supporting the rise of the far right in France.
Following Cannes’ April 17 announcement of the honor, Women and Hollywood founder Melissa Silverstein said she was “extremely disappointed” that Cannes would honor someone who held such “abhorrent values.” In a tweet, Silverstein said Delon “has publicly admitted to slapping women. He has aligned himself with the racist and anti-Semitic National Front. He has claimed that being gay is ‘against nature.’ The Cannes Film Festival has committed itself to diversity and inclusion. By honoring Mr. Delon, Cannes is honoring these abhorrent values.”
Cannes told Variety that it was “honoring Alain 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 festival declined to address the specific points raised against Delon.
Through his assistant, Delon, 83, declined to comment. His controversial remarks have previously been criticized as sexist and bigoted, but he has never been accused of domestic violence or of a crime.
An icon of the European film industry, he has starred in more than 80 films, working with filmmakers such as Michelangelo Antonioni, Luchino Visconti, Jean-Pierre Melville and Jean-Luc Godard, and appearing alongside movie greats such as Romy Schneider, Jean Gabin, Yves Montand and Lino Ventura.
Contacted by Variety, French feminist organization Osez Le Feminisme said that “Cannes is sending a negative signal to women and victims of violence by honoring Delon in spite of the fact that he admitted to having slapped women.”
However, other advocacy groups have declined to comment. The French group 5050×2020, which promotes gender parity in the entertainment industry, said only that it was “regretful that Cannes is not giving its honorary Palme d’Or to a woman who is not an actress, even though there are plenty to choose from.”
A spokesperson for victim-defense and gender-parity group Time’s Up said that the group had no comment at this time.
The decision to give Delon the award comes as Cannes is trying to become a more inclusive festival. After being criticized for failing to highlight movies from female directors, Cannes selected a record-equaling four films by female directors to compete for its main prize, the Palme d’Or. Last year, the festival also signed a gender parity and inclusion pledge.
It is possible that Cannes will face more blowback after the festival starts and the decision to recognize Delon generates more media attention, but for now, most organizations are remaining silent. In an interview, Silverstein said she was surprised that other advocacy groups hadn’t commented on Cannes’ decision to celebrate Delon.
“I can only speculate that some people feel fatigue about these issues, and he hasn’t been technically accused of anything,” she said. “But I don’t think you have to be accused of something if you’ve espoused these type of sexist, homophobic and anti-Semitic views. I don’t think a person like that should be honored.”
Silverstein noted multiple articles have been written about Delon’s controversial statements. “If you do a quick Google search, you can understand who this person is,” she said. “I just don’t think people care, and that’s sad.”
In an interview last year, Delon admitted that he had slapped some women in his life after being asked if he had ever misbehaved with women. In a 2015 television interview, Delon also said: “I’m not against gay marriage, I could care less, but I’m against adoption of children [by same-sex parents]….I’m having a hard time living though this epoch where we trivialize what’s against nature.”
As for the far-right National Front, Delon has said he was a longtime friend of the party’s founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, whom he met during the Indochina War before Le Pen started his political career. But Delon also said in a 2013 interview that he understood and supported the rise of the far right in France and Switzerland. Delon said he had voted for French conservative candidates other than the National Front, which is now by headed Le Pen’s daughter, former presidential candidate Marine Le Pen. During the last presidential election, Delon said he voted for the conservative candidate Francois Fillon. He previously supported Republican candidate Nicolas Sarkozy.
As part of his honorary Palme d’Or celebration, Delon has chosen to present “Mr. Klein,” Joseph Losey’s 1976 film which looks at discrimination against Jews and their deportation from France under the Vichy government during World War II. Delon produced, co-financed and starred in the film, which tells the story of an art dealer who is erroneously believed to be Jewish and highlights the discrimination directed against Jewish people.
In a recent interview published in Le Monde, Delon said his acting days were over after 60 years in the business, but he admitted having one regret. “There is one thing I’ve missed out on that will always haunt me: I would have liked to have been directed by a woman before I die,” said the actor, who mentioned the filmmakers Lisa Azuelos (“Dalida”) and Maiwenn (“Polisse”).