French theatre director quits after rape claim

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French theatre director quits after rape claim
In this file photo taken on March 1, 2019 French actor and director Jean-Pierre Baro poses at the Theatre National de Bretagne (TNB) in Rennes, western France. On December 12, 2019, the Theatre des Quartiers d'Ivry closed its doors. The members of the staff were on strike against their own director Jean-Pierre Baro, who has been accused of rape. The complaint was filed in 2018 by a young woman who worked in a production office, for facts that would have happened on September 2011, years before he took over the direction of the theatre in Ivry. Damien MEYER / AFP.

by Rana Moussaoui / Fiachra Gibbons

PARIS (AFP).- The director of a French theatre has resigned the day after his staff went on strike urging him to quit over the fallout from a rape allegation.

Jean-Pierre Baro, the first major theatre figure to be hit by the #MeToo movement in France, denied assaulting a colleague in 2011 and police dropped the case for lack of proof.

Baro, one of the few black men at the head of a French cultural institution, made his name with a stage adaptation of JM Coetzee's novel "Disgrace" about a South African university professor accused of sexually harassing a student.

A formal complaint for rape was made last year shortly after he was chosen to head the Theatre des Quartiers d'Ivry on the southeastern edge of Paris.

"My conscience is clear," Baro told AFP after stepping down on Thursday, saying he was only quitting to save the subsidised theatre, which has seen its audiences plummet since the allegation was first aired in June.

He said sex with a production assistant was consensual and insisted he had worked closely with her for seven years afterwards.

"I was interrogated by the police and when they had her confront me it appeared that I had never forced her," he said.

"I did not use any form of violence or pressure that night," he said. "What happened was totally consensual for me. It was only seven years later that I found out that she did not feel the same way."

Baro said he was 33 "totally unknown and barely out of school" when the alleged rape happened.

Social media 'lynching'
"We were two young people starting out together... and for 10 years we grew up professionally together."

Some 60 actors, directors and theatre professionals signed an open letter Thursday defending Baro, saying the image propagated of him as a "sexual criminal abusing his power does not at all fit with the person we know.

"He should not be the scapegoat for a scourage that is gnawing at our society," they added.

The accusation first surfaced in a blog on the Mediapart investigative website.

But since then staff at the theatre have quit, bookings have dried up and "many artists refuse to set foot in the theatre", the striking staff said in a statement.

French actress Adele Haenel spoke out to Mediapart last month about being sexually harassed from the age of 12 by the director of her first film.

Director Christophe Ruggia, 54, initially strenuously denied the accusations before asking Haenel -- star of the acclaimed new film "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" -- to forgive him.

Mediapart has also brought to light several abuse accusations against the powerful French film producer Luc Besson, which he denies.

Baro told AFP that he supported women speaking out about abuse but "here it turned into a public lynching on rumours and denunciations".

He said he did not want to resign because it gave "legitimacy to the strategy of terror" that saw careers ended because people were "condemned on social media without any legal recourse".

But his hand was forced by the French culture ministry who felt his position was untenable.

© Agence France-Presse

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