(Paris) More than 50 French artists, screenwriters and producers published a text on Tuesday defending film star and national icon Gérard Depardieu, as his behavior towards women during his five-decade career comes under scrutiny increasingly careful scrutiny. Advocates for victims of sexual abuse have expressed dismay at the outpouring of support.

Depardieu was charged with rape and sexual assault in 2020 following allegations by actress Charlotte Arnould, and has been accused by more than a dozen other women of harassing, groping or sexually assaulting them. Depardieu denies any wrongdoing and called the text “magnificent.”

Published Tuesday in the conservative newspaper Le Figaro, it was signed by personalities such as former first lady and singer Carla Bruni, Depardieu’s former companion Carole Bouquet and actors Pierre Richard, Charlotte Rampling and Victoria Abril. Two dozen of the 56 signatories were women. Many are from the Depardieu generation, the latter is 74 years old.

A recent documentary profiles accusations of sexual misconduct made by 16 women against Depardieu and shows the actor making lewd remarks and gestures during a trip to North Korea in 2018. The France 2 documentary sparked calls for the cessation of the broadcast of Depardieu’s films, which include classics of modern French cinema.

“When we attack Gérard Depardieu in this way, it is art that we attack,” we can read in the text.

“For his genius as an actor, Gérard Depardieu contributes to the artistic influence of our country. He contributes to the history of art in the highest possible way. He is part of this history, and continues to enrich it. For this, France owes him so much. » The text continues by indicating that to deprive ourselves of this actor would be a tragedy, a defeat, and even “the death of art”.

Parisian MP and feminist Raphaëlle Rémy-Leleu said the signatories were experiencing a “denial of reality”. She would have preferred that they instead support initiatives against sexual violence.

Emmanuelle Dancourt, whose group

French President Emmanuel Macron also sparked anger when he said last week that Depardieu “makes France proud.”

The recent documentary includes a segment in which Depardieu is heard making crude sexual comments about a young girl on horseback. Mr Macron suggested the segment could have been edited in a misleading way. France Télévisions, which broadcast the documentary, later argued that the segment in question had been authenticated by a bailiff who viewed the raw footage.