The Paris-based director said the ceremony was turning into a "public lynching."
PARIS — Several women walked out of France's film academy as it presented its version of the Oscars on Friday where director Roman Polanski's latest film is up for the most awards.
Women's rights activists also protested outside the Paris concert hall where the Cesar awards were being held.
Polanski decided to skip the ceremony because of earlier protests by women's groups denouncing the 12 nominations "An Officer and a Spy" received after a French woman brought a new rape accusation against him.
A few hundred protesters brandishing signs with phrases such as "Victims, we believe you" and "No to impunity" assembled outside the Salle Pleyel hall before the ceremony started.
The group chanted, "We are here, we are here, even if Polanski doesn't want to, we are here." The entire male-dominated leadership of the Cesars stepped down recently amid a spat over its byzantine decision-making structure and over how to deal with the Polanski problem.
In a statement this week, the Paris-based Polanski, 86, said the ceremony was turning into a "public lynching" and that he decided not to attend the ceremony to protect his colleagues and his wife and children.
Polanski is still wanted in the United States decades after he was charged with raping a 13-year-old girl in 1977. He pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor but fled the country on the eve of sentencing.
Last year, a woman came forward to accuse Polanski of raping her in 1975 in his Swiss chalet when she was 18. Polanski denied it, and the allegations are too old for an investigation.
But the accusation put the director under fresh scrutiny in France, where he has long been revered as one of the country's premier filmmakers despite the outstanding rape charge in the U.S. Other accusations have also emerged.
"An Officer and a Spy" is about the anti-Semitic persecution of French army Capt. Alfred Dreyfus and his wrongful treason conviction in the 1890s. It is among the best film nominees. Polanski has nominations for best adaptation and best director.