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Who Is Maïwenn? Meet The Controversial French Director Who Hired Johnny Depp

The French director making waves at the Cannes Film Festival with her new film “Jeanne du Barry” is no stranger to controversy, with unorthodox views for a woman in the movie industry about sexual abuse accusations.

Who Is Maïwenn? Meet The Controversial French Director Who Hired Johnny Depp

Maïwenn and Johnny Depp at the Festival de Cannes photocall.

Sophie Jacquier

PARIS — The 76th Cannes Film Festival has opened with controversy: the festival’s debut movie “Jeanne du Barry” stars Johnny Depp, in the actor’s first major role since his dueling defamation trial with ex-wife Amber Heard, which included multiple allegations of physical abuse.

But there’s a would-be accomplice to this controversy in the film’s French director and co-star Maïwenn, a much discussed figure in her own right, who hired him to play the lead in her new movie.

Indeed, it may not be surprising that the 47-year-old director didn’t hesitate in working with Depp, having been vocal in her own unorthodox views on the #MeToo movement. The pair’s appearance together at Tuesday night’s red carpet, as well as their complicit whispers during the screening, caught the attention of the French press as much as Depp’s own star power.

Though film buffs know Maïwenn’s work, a wider international public is just getting to know this iconoclast director with a unique biography.

Child actress to breakthrough director

Maïwenn Le Besco (simply known as Maïwenn) began her career in cinema as a child, pushed by her Algerian-born “stage mother” who pressured her to play in as many films as she could.

Her first breakthrough was in the role of Elle in the 1983 film “One Deadly Summer”, directed by Jean Becker. Other roles would follow in films by Luc Besson, Alexandre Aja or Claude Lelouch.

“Polisse”, a social drama, won the Jury Prize at the 2011 edition of Cannes, while Maïwenn’s “Mon roi” scored a best actress for Emmanuelle Bercot in 2015.

Johnny Depp as Louis XV and Maïwenn as Jeanne du Barry in the movie.

Jeanne du Barry

Controversy magnet

Yet the filmmaker has often gotten as much attention off-set as on. Last week she confirmed reports that she had spit on Edwy Plenel, editor-in-chief and founder of Mediapart, independent French investigative news media, while he was eating in a restaurant. The journalist had then filed a complaint accusing her of aggression.

Mediapart had published several articles in 2021 investigating rape and sexual assault allegations against Luc Besson, whom Maïwenn married in 1992 when she was only 16.

Among France’s leading female directors, Maïwenn has shocked many women in the film industry with her views on accusations of sexual aggression. During the #MeToo movement Maïwenn lashed out at feminists and those making accusations. “I recognize that women abused by men are often fragile women,” she told French weekly news magazine Paris Match in 2020. “Now, me, if I agree to go to a man’s room at 1 a.m., I suspect that it is not to talk about a role.”

Maïwenn at Cinemania 2011.

Wikipedia/Cinemania Film Festival

#MeToo in French cinema

Now, she’s back at Cannes, making waves for both her work and her words. In the 18th-century period epic about the relationship between Louis XV and his mistress, she plays opposite Depp as the seductive Jeanne du Barry.

It is time for French cinema to stop supporting individuals who abuse their positions of power.

The controversy is compounded in France because of the announcement last week by top French actress Adèle Haenel that she was quitting the film industry “to denounce the general complacency of the profession towards sexual aggressors,” citing actor Gérard Depardieu and filmmaker Roman Polanski, in an open letter to French magazine Télérama.

Téléramapublished an article entitled “Cannes 2023: Johnny Depp's Controversial Comeback, Crowned by Maïwenn”, in which the journalist criticizes the “honor bestowed, with the ritualistic standing ovation, some might say obligatory, upon an actor accused of domestic violence.”

A collective of French actresses and actors expressed their outrage on Tuesday in a column published by the newspaper Libération, denouncing the Festival’s decision to put forward Maiwenn’s movie, and showing support to Haenel.

“By rolling out the red carpet for men and women who commit acts of aggression, the festival sends the message that in our country, we can continue to exercize violence with impunity, and that violence is permitted in creative space,” they wrote. “It is time for French cinema to stop supporting individuals who abuse their positions of power.”

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