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The French #Metoo Scandal Unraveling in Weinstein’s Shadow

French actor Gérard Depardieu was ordered to stand trial for allegedly sexually assaulting two women on a film set three years ago, marking the latest legal escalation for the 75-year-old movie star who has become a central figure in France’s #MeToo movement.

The announcement coincides with a years-long battle between Depardieu and more than a dozen women who have accused him of sexual assault throughout his career. The allegations span nearly two decades and 11 production sets. Some of the women, which include actors, make-up artists, and production staff, have reportedly alleged that Depardieu made lewd remarks and groped them.

Paris prosecutors announced Depardieu will face trial in October on Monday, just hours after the actor waltzed out of a police station in Paris’s 14th district where he had reportedly answered questions about the allegations against him.

For some legal experts, the Depardieu allegations seem eerily similar to the early reckoning days of Hollywood’s most disgraced film titan.

“The Depardieu case is similar to [Harvey] Weinstein,” former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani told The Daily Beast. “Both are older men who allegedly abused their positions of power in the entertainment industry to sexually assault multiple women over the course of decades. And both men are finally facing criminal justice after a #MeToo-type movement where one victim encouraged additional victims to come forward.”

Depardieu is one of the most prolific film stars in French history, starring in almost 250 productions and enjoying a successful career Stateside. He starred alongside Andie MacDowell in the 1990 hit Green Card, shared scenes with Queen Latifa in her 2006 rom-com Last Holiday, and played a role in Life of Pi. He was even nominated for an Oscar for his role in Cyrano de Bergerac in 1991.

Weinstein, meanwhile, was revered for producing some of America’s greatest cult classics, including Pulp Fiction, Shakespeare in Love, and Sex, Lies, and Videotape. His status as one of Hollywood’s most important names, however, came to a crashing halt in 2017—when The New York Times and The New Yorker both released bombshell articles in which a dozen women accused Weinstein of sexual harassment and assault.

Rahmani noted that, like Weinstein, Depardieu has denied all wrongdoing. “Both men admit that sexual conduct happened, but argue it was consensual,” he said. “That is a difficult defense when multiple victims are claiming they were assaulted.”

In a statement to The Daily Beast, Weinstein’s spokesperson added that his client “is saddened if he made people feel uncomfortable.” “He always believed the relationships and friendships he had were consensual, and this whole experience has him heartbroken,” Juda Engelmayer added. “Harvey believes he never did anything illegal or forcibly with any of the people in his life.”

Gerard Depardieu poses during a photocall for the second season of the French TV show Marseille on Feb. 18, 2018 in Marseille, southern France.

Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP via Getty Images

The latest criminal charges against Depardieu stem from two unidentified women who have accused the actor of sexually assaulting them on the set Les Volets Verts, or The Green Shutters, in 2021. Depardieu is also being investigated on suspicion of rape and sexual assault in connection to an August 2018 incident involving actress Charlotte Arnould, prosecutors added. The New York Times reported that the investigation into Arnould’s case was finalized this month, but it’s not yet clear where or when he will stand trial.

Last April, Mediapart released an investigation in which 13 women accused Depardieu of sexual assault from 2004 to 2022. The article detailed that a set designer on The Green Shutters alleged Depardieu groped her “waist and stomach, moving up to [her] breasts” while she was leaving the set.

Months later Depardieu wrote an open letter denying all wrongdoing. “I have never, ever abused a woman,” he wrote. “Hurting a woman would be like kicking my own mother in the stomach.”

The cultural divide about Depardieu came to a head in December after the documentary Depardieu: The Fall of an Ogre was released on local TV. The documentary showed footage of Depardieu making inappropriate comments and insensitive jokes on a 2018 trip to North Korea, Variety reported. It also revealed that another actor filed a complaint against him for allegedly sexually assaulting her while filming the 2007 hit Disco. (That complaint was dismissed in January because the statute of limitations expired.)

“It’s been a huge media event, everybody’s been talking about it for a month. Just like with Harvey Weinstein, it started with 13 women accusing him of sexual misconduct, three of which are rape,” French-American film critic Iris Brey told Variety in January.

Unlike Weinstein, he actually had some vocal supporters.

Amid the backlash over the documentary, about 50 French media personalities penned an open letter of support for Depardieu, calling the harsh response a “lynching.” “We don’t want to enter into debate, and we leave the judiciary to do its job,” the letter published in Le Figaro read. “We cannot remain silent in the face of the backlash against him, the torrent of hatred which is poured on him without nuance, with the greatest conflation and scorn for the presumption of innocence, that he would have benefited from had he not been the giant of cinema that he is.”

French President Emmanuel Macron also sparked controversy for defending Depardieu, calling him “a genius of his art” and suggesting the actor was the victim of a witch hunt. “He has made France known across the whole world. And, I say this as president and as a citizen, he makes France proud,” Macron said.

Similar to the strong force of the American #MeToo movement, an open counter-letter signed by 600 French art and entertainment world figures was released to condemn the support of Depardieu. The letter called the support a slap in the face of sexual assault victims.

“It is the sinister and perfect illustration of the world which refuses to let things change,” the letter posted on Mediapart read.

The fate of both Weinstein and Depardieu still hangs in the balance. Last week, the New York Court of Appeals overturned the 2020 landmark conviction that defined the #MeToo trial—meaning both media moguls could soon see the inside of a courtroom in their respective countries.

“But they’re different kinds of beasts,” Brey said. “Harvey Weinstein made Hollywood but wasn’t loved by people, whereas Depardieu has shaped French cinema and he is adored by the French, including our president.”

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