French film star Catherine Deneuve apologizes to sex assault victims

Veteran French actress Catherine Deneuve has issued her own open letter on the #MeToo movement against sexual assault. She directed an apology to victims, while defending her own claims to being a feminist.

In a letter published by the French left-wing Liberation newspaper on Sunday evening, actress Catherine Deneuve issued a clarification in which she apologized to victims of sexual assault and harassment.

"I am a free woman and I will remain so," Deneuve wrote. "I welcome all the victims of odious acts that may have felt aggrieved by this letter published in Le Monde. It is to them and to them alone that I apologize."

The veteran actress said there was "nothing in the letter" to Le Monde that said "anything good about harassment — otherwise I wouldn't have signed it."

Deneuve was one of a 100 performers, scholars and others who signed an open letter published January 9 by the conservative newspaper Le Monde saying the "legitimate protest against sexual violence," stemming from the Harvey Weinstein scandal, has gone too far and threatened hard-won sexual freedoms. They branded it a "witch hunt."

Defending her record

The 74-year-old also tackled criticism that she was not a feminist. Deneuve reminded readers she was one of the signatories to the Manifesto of the 343, published in 1971, in which she declared she had had an abortion, which was illegal in France at the time.

"That is why I would like to say to conservatives, racists and traditionalists of all kinds who have found it strategic to support me that I am not fooled. They will have neither my gratitude nor my friendship," she wrote.

In her clarification, Deneuve also distanced herself from comments made by another signatory to the letter, former porn star and current radio host Brigitte Lahaie, who claimed it was possible for women to enjoy rape. Deneuve said the comments were "spitting in the face of all those who have suffered this crime."

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Catherine Deneuve

Among the signatories of the open letter was Oscar-nominated French star Catherine Deneuve. Already known for her controversial stance toward harassment, Deneuve has said she finds the #MeToo and #BalanceTonPorc social media actions "excessive." That's after she expressed her support for director Roman Polanski, who is still wanted in the US for the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl in 1977.

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Catherine Millet

Modern art expert and editor-in-chief of the magazine Art Press, Catherine Millet was also among the signatories who wrote, "Rape is a crime, but trying to seduce someone, even persistently or cack-handedly, is not — nor is men being gentlemanly a macho attack." Millet is perhaps best known for her book, "The Sexual Life of Catherine M.," a memoir tracing her 30 years in France's swinger scene.

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Ingrid Caven

German-born Chanson singer, Ingrid Caven, added her name to the open letter, which claims that the protest's legitimacy has turned into a "witch-hunt." "Instead of helping women, this frenzy (...) actually helps the enemies of sexual liberty — religious extremists and the worst sort of reactionaries. As women, we do not recognize ourselves in this feminism."

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Brigitte Lahaie

A radio talk show host who got her start in the porn industry in 1976, just a year after it was legalized, Brigitte Lahaie signed the letter, which speaks of a "purifying wave" that knows no limit. "(T)he human being is not monolithic: a woman can in the same day lead a professional team and enjoy being the sexual object of a man without being a 'slut' nor a vile accomplice of the patriarchy."

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#BalanceTonPorc

France's version of #MeToo is #BalanceTonPorc, or "call out your pig." Created by NY-based French journalist Sandra Muller, it essentially invites people to name names — and that involves legal risks. Muller herself was asked by lawyers to delete a tweet in which she named a French executive who had said offensive remarks.

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Ségolène Royal

Prominent feminists quickly responded to the letter signed by Deneuve, saying that it blurred the line between seduction and harassment and in doing so, harmed the "millions of women who suffer from this abuse." Former presidential candidate Ségolène Royal took to Twitter to express her dismay, saying, "It's too bad that our great Catherine Deneuve has signed on to this disconcerting text."

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Emma De Caunes

Among the women who have accused Harvey Weinstein of inappropriate behavior is French actress Emma De Caunes. De Caunes said she had met Weinstein for lunch at a Paris Hotel in 2010. She was invited to his hotel room to discuss a project but after he walked out of his bathroom naked with an erection, Caunes fled. "It was like a hunter with a wild animal," she said. "The fear turns him on."

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Florence Darel

In October, actress Florence Darel also came out as having been sexually harassed by Harvey Weinstein, telling People magazine that Weinstein pursued her in the mid '90s and then propositioned her in a hotel room while his then-wife, Eve Chilton, was in the room next door. Darcel, who starred in "The Stolen Children" and "Uranus" has also accused other French producers, including Jacques Dorfmann.

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Isabelle Adjani

In October, shortly after the accusations against Harvey Weinstein went public, French actress Isabelle Adjani published an op-ed in the weekly JDD newspaper saying, "(T)his is not a game … When an actress dresses up in a seductive way to get a role, it's not to get raped!" She went on to say that in France, "things are more sneaky" than in the US — but "seduction" cannot be an excuse for assault.

Disagreeing with #MeToo

However, Deneuve confirmed some points of disagreement with the #MeToo movement. "I do not like this characteristic of our time … when simple denunciations on social networks generate punishment, resignation and often media lynching," she wrote.

In the wake of the initial letter in Le Monde, former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi praised Deneuve during a late-night talk show on Italian television. Describing Deneuve's words as "holy," he said: "It's not an offense to court women if it stays in the realm of elegance," he said on RAI state television's "Porta a Porta" program.

Berlusconi has never faced sexual assault allegations, but is known for his "bunga bunga" parties and associations with younger women.

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Deneuve denounces #MeToo 'puritanism'

jm/cmk (AFP, dpa)