With the Oscars on Sunday also set to be dominated by the treatment of women in the film industry in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, the French academy admitted that “we should have done something long ago”.
It enraged feminists last year by inviting French-based Polanski, who is wanted in the US for the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl in 1977, to preside over the ceremony.
The veteran director of “Rosemary’s Baby” — who has since been accused of sexual assault by several women — was finally forced to pull out by the protests and threats of a boycott.
Cesars boss Alain Terzian said that it took “that monstrous (Weinstein) episode in Hollywood for everyone to finally wake up”.
“We have to become obsessive about equality between men and women,” the producer added.
As well as the ribbons, actress and singer Vanessa Paradis helped launch a social media hashtag #MaintenantOnAgit (Now we act), while other leading women in the industry signed an open letter demanding quotas for women directors.
– ‘Not acceptable’ –
French Culture Minister Francoise Nyssen was unusually critical of the industry earlier this week, saying it was “not acceptable that there are fewer women film-makers, and that they are less visible and supported”.
She said only one in five feature films subsidised by the French state last year were made by women.
“It is really great that women have come together to say ‘Stop”!'” said the actress and director Sophie Marceau, best known outside France for her parts in “Braveheart” and the Bond movie “The World Is Not Enough”.
“Wearing a ribbon is about expressing our solidarity,” said the actress Julie Gayet, who produced the cult cannibal horror hit “Raw” — the only film directed by a woman in the running for best film.
Gayet, the partner of former French president, Francois Hollande, told French daily Le Monde that the media’s search for a “French Weinstein” had paralysed the industry.
“That doesn’t really tackle where the problem of harassment comes from,” she argued, “which is about (unequal) power relationships”.
Veteran French actresses Catherine Deneuve and Brigitte Bardot have hit the headlines internationally by attacking the #MeToo movement, with Deneuve defending men’s right to “hit on” women.
Bardot, 83, sparked fury by saying “lots of actresses try to play the tease with producers to get a role”.
“And then, so we will talk about them, they say they were harassed.”
An acclaimed film about AIDS activists and a World War I epic are expected to share the major honours at the ceremony, which starts late Friday.
“120 BPM (Beats Per Minute)”, which follows the battles of a group of ACT UP activists with the French government and drugs companies in the 1990s, picked up 13 nominations including best film.
“See You Up There”, a breezy post-Great War satire drawn from a novel which won France’s top literary prize in 2013, picked up the same number of nods.
The comedy “C’est la vie!”, starring balding French everyman star Jean-Pierre Bacri as a caterer trying keep a shambolic wedding on the rails, got 10 nominations.
Spanish actress Penelope Cruz will also receive an honorary Cesar at the awards ceremony.