Thierry Fremaux, the artistic director of the Cannes Film Festival, defended the decision to give controversial actor Alain Delon an honorary Palme d’Or during a sometimes testy press conference on Monday.
“We’re not giving Alain Delon the Nobel Peace Prize,” a visibly frustrated Fremaux said, drawing some laughter.
The move to recognize Delon, the star of “Le Samouraï” and “The Leopard,” has been criticized by women’s rights advocates such as Women and Hollywood founder Melissa Silverstein. They object to comments that Delon made in which he admitted to slapping women, opposed the adoption of children by same-sex parents and expressed sympathy with far right politicians.
Fremaux stressed that the festival was “honoring Delon as an artist” and was “paying tribute to his accomplishments in the film industry which have nothing to do with his political opinions or his friendship with (founder of France’s far-right party National Front, now known as National Rally) Jean-Marie Le Pen.
“Delon is free to have those opinions even if I don’t share them,” said Fremaux, adding that the festival was interested in promoting freedom of expression. He also said Delon’s comments on the French far right movement paled in comparison to President Donald Trump’s calls to crack down on illegal immigration and his nativist policies.
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When told that there was an American petition to stop Delon from being honored at Cannes, Frémaux quipped that there should be more petitions in the U.S. for climate change, noting that Trump has expressed skepticism about global warming.
Fremaux also addressed criticism that the festival’s competition only had four films directed by women. He said that the under-representation of women directors in the film industry is a larger issue that should not only be discussed once a year during the festival. He said that when the festival signed a gender parity pledge last year, no one — not even the advocacy group 50/50 for 2020 — expected Cannes to have an equal number of female and male directors vying in its official selection. Despite that, Cannes overall does have a record 15 films helmed by women directors at the festival.