Portrait of a Lady on Fire star Adèle Haenel quits film industry in powerful #MeToo statement

Adele Haenel pens damning letter to French Film industry as she retires.

French lesbian actor Adèle Haenel has announced her retirement from the profession, but took a huge swing at the film industry as she left – condemning it for its “complacency towards sexual aggressors”.

The past week has seen former US president Donald Trump found liable for the sexual assault of E Jean Carroll, Tory Lanez denied a new trial after being found guilty of shooting Megan Thee Stallion and Marilyn Manson suffer a major loss in his defamation case against Evan Rachel Wood after she accused him of sexual and physical abuse.

However, among the victories, Haenel’s latest #MeToo statement is a reminder that there is still a long way to go when it comes to tackling systemic misogynistic violence, particularly in Hollywood.

The 34-year-old actor, best known for her award-winning performance in the sapphic 2019 period romance, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, opposite Noémi Merlant, published a damning open letter in Télérama magazine on Tuesday (9 May) in which she accused the industry of wanting to make victims “disappear and die in silence”.

Adèle Haenel became one of the spearheads of the #MeToo movement in France in November 2019 when she alleged that she was sexually harassed by French director Christophe Ruggia between the ages of 12 and 15. The following January, Ruggia was indicted on the charges of “sexual aggression against a minor by a person of authority and sexual harassment” in response to Haenel’s accusations.

He denies the allegations.

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Adèle Haenel (L) in Portrait of a Lady on Fire.
Adèle Haenel (L) in Portrait of a Lady on Fire. (Lilies Films)

Since then, Haenel has tirelessly stood up for victims of sexual violence and initially announced she was taking a step back from the industry in May 2022, accusing the industry of being “racist and patriarchal” and saying, in an interview with German magazine FAQ, that “to leave is to fight”.

Despite hopes that she might return to the spotlight, Haenel’s latest letter has sealed her retirement.

“I decided to politicise my retirement from cinema to denounce the general complacency of the profession towards sexual aggressors and more generally the way in which this sphere collaborates with the mortal, ecocidal, racist order of the world, such as it is,” she began the letter, according to a translation in The Guardian.

She continued: “They all join hands to save the face of [Gérard] Depardieu, [Roman] Polanski, [Dominique] Boutonnat. It bothers them, it bothers them that the victims make too much noise, they would prefer that we continue to disappear and die in silence.”

It is not the first time Adèle Haenel has called out French-Polish director Polanski. During the 2020 César Awards ceremony, which she attended after being nominated for Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Polanski won best director for An Officer and a Spy, prompting Haenel to storm out of the ceremony shouting “Bravo pedophilia” and “Shame”.

Polanski, 89, was arrested and charged with the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl in the US in 1977. As part of a plea bargain, he admitted a lesser charge of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, but hearing the judge had reportedly said he was going to disregard the deal and sentence him to 50 years in jail, the Oscar-winning director of The Pianist fled to France and has lived in Europe ever since.

Meanwhile, actor Depardieu, 74, has been accused of sexual assault and harassment by a number of women but his lawyer has stated he “formally denies all the charges which may fall under criminal law”.

Boutonnat, 53, the president of France’s most powerful entertainment body, the National Film Board, is to stand trial for the alleged sexual assault of a 21-year-old man.

Reflecting on the poor state of the French film industry for rewarding these fmen, Haenel concluded: “Faced with the monopoly of the words and finances of the bourgeoisie, I have no other weapons than my body and my integrity.

“This is the meaning of cancel culture: you have the money, the strength and all the glory, you gargle with it, but you will not have me as a spectator. I cancel you out of my world.”

Adèle Haenel, who rose to prominence in 2007’s Water Lilies, came out as a lesbian in 2014 during her César award acceptance speech where she declared her love for her then-partner and Water Lilies director Céline Sciamma. The pair split up in 2018 but remain close and worked together once more on Portrait of a Lady on Fire.

Rape Crisis England and Wales works towards the elimination of sexual violence. If you’ve been affected by the issues raised in this story, you can access more information on their website or by calling the National Rape Crisis Helpline on 0808 802 9999. Rape Crisis Scotland’s helpline number is 08088 01 03 02.

Readers in the US are encouraged to contact RAINN, or the National Sexual Assault Hotline on 800-656-4673.