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Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

Adèle Haenel is leaving the ‘racist and patriarchal’ film industry

Portrait of a Lady on Fire star has said she can no longer be a part of an industry that defends a ‘capitalist, patriarchal, racist, sexist world of structural inequality’

Adèle Haenel is stepping away from the world of film for “political reasons”, saying she is no longer able to support and take part in an industry that “defends a capitalist, patriarchal, racist, sexist world of structural inequality”.

The French actress, who previously starred in critically acclaimed films including Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Deerskin and 120 BPM, told the German magazine FAQ that she doesn’t make films anymore. “The film industry is absolutely reactionary, racist and patriarchal,” she said, adding that we are mistaken to think the world is moving in the right direction under the management of the powerful. “Not at all. The only thing that moves society structurally is social struggle. And it seems to me that in my case, to leave is to fight. By leaving this industry for good, I want to take part in another world, in another cinema.”

Haenel said that while she tried to change things from within, the film industry is too problematic when it comes to racism, women’s issues and the MeToo movement. “I don’t want to be a part of that anymore.”  

Haenel had previously been attached to star in director Bruno Dumont’s upcoming sci-fi movie but said after failed discussions with Dumont about the script she had to walk away from its “racist narrative.”

“Behind [the] funny facade, it was a dark, sexist and racist world that was defended. The script was full of jokes about cancel culture and sexual violence,” she said. “I tried to discuss it with Dumont, because I thought a dialogue was possible. I wanted to believe for the umpteenth time that it was not intentional. But it’s intentional. This disregard is deliberate. Just as they make fun of the victims, of people in a situation of weakness. The intention was to make a sci-fi film with an all-white cast – and therefore a racist narrative. I didn’t want to support this.”

This isn’t the first time Haenel has made clear her feelings on the way the film industry upholds patriarchal values and protects – and even celebrates – predators. In 2020, she walked out of the César Film Awards (AKA the French Oscars) in protest of Roman Polanski winning Best Director for An Officer and a Spy. In 1977, Polanski was arrested and charged with drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl. He fled from the US to Paris before he could be sentenced. 

Haenel shouted “Bravo paedophilia!” as she walked out of the ceremony in protest alongside other attendees including Portrait of a Lady on Fire director Céline Sciamma. She had previously shared that she had been abused by the director Christophe Ruggia between the ages of 12 and 15. 

In her FAQ interview, Haenel pointed out the hypocrisy of the industry. “The director of the CNC, the French organization for the promotion of cinema, Dominique Boutonnat, remains in office while he is indicted for sexual assault. But Thierry Frémaux, from the Cannes Film Festival, puts three women in the 2022 Official Selection, so I am told that this is going in the right direction?” she said, adding: “I don’t want to be part of a feminist washing machine. It’s bullshit.” 

While Haenel will now be focusing her attention on her work in the theatre, she didn’t entirely rule out making films in the future, as long as they are with fellow activists like Sciamma and Gisèle Vienne. “If I stayed today in this film industry, I would be a kind of feminist guarantee to this masculine and patriarchal industry. My dream is to make it clear: this industry defends a capitalist, patriarchal, racist, sexist world of structural inequality. This means that this industry works hand in hand with the global economic order, in which all lives are not equal.”