Trigger Warning: This article discusses abuse, sexual harassment, child molestation and pedophilia.
With the comic book film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets coming out soon, I thought now would be the best time to discuss the director of the film: Luc Besson.
Besson has written and directed many admired films, such as The Fifth Element, Taken, and Lucy. Despite being a well-known director, part of his history seems to have been forgotten by the media.
While watching the film Léon: The Professional a few years back, I noticed the movie seemed strangely pedophile-friendly and had a strong feeling that the director of the film could possibly be a pedophile. For those of you that may not know, the film stars a 12-year-old Natalie Portman, who plays a rebellious child named Mathilda, and Jean Reno, who plays an older hitman named Léon.
In the movie, there are scenes of Mathilda trying on women’s underwear and referring to Léon as her lover. Portman’s character also states that she wants to “have it” with Léon. If you think that’s weird, the uncut version of the film is worse. The international version of the film includes a scene in which Mathilda asks the hitman to give her a kiss. Another scene shows her trying to seduce him and invite him to go to bed with her. Apparently, the reason for making an American version of the film was to tone down the pedophile allusions. After I finished watching the film, I had to do some research of my own to see if I was right about a pedophile making the movie. Turns out, my suspicion was right.
Plenty of people are unaware that Besson is actually considered a sexual predator in the United States and has committed statutory rape. In the year 1991, Besson began a relationship with a 15-year-old actress named Maïwenn Besco. At the time, Besson was already a 32-year-old and was currently working on Léon: The Professional. His young girlfriend was even given a small role in the film; Besco played a character titled “blond babe”, which is just another example of the sexualization of underage girls in the film.
Besson did not only date a minor, he also impregnated her. At the age of 16, Besco gave birth to Besson’s daughter, Shanna Besson. Besson has never actually been convicted for statutory rape because he is from France, and the age of consent there is 15. In his own country, he isn’t legally guilty of the crime, but does that really excuse anyone from preying on a minor? Keep in mind that the age of sexual consent in France is 15, but a minor is still anyone under the age of 18.
You would think that something like pedophilia would be career-damaging. Although this did take place in the 90s, he still managed to work on plenty of other films within that timeframe. Many other men involved with controversies have also failed to face any serious consequences career-wise. One recent example would be Johnny Depp, who recently had a case for domestic abuse. Even with all of the controversy that the case caused, it seemed to not have any effect on Depp’s career considering he recently reprised his role in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. As of now, Depp also has 5 films lined up for 2017 and 2018.
Similarly to Besson, director Woody Allen has also been accused of pedophilia and is most notably known for marrying the adopted daughter of his former wife. Despite Allen’s accusations, he still remains in the limelight, and continues to make popular films.
Victor Salva is yet another director that was convicted of molesting a child, along with having child pornography at his home. Salva wasn’t completely free of consequence, since he served 15 months in prison for his crime. You would think a child molester would have difficulties getting hired again, especially as a director, which may require working with children. Even with his criminal record, Salva recently finished directing Jeepers Creepers 3, which is set for release later this year.
Even more recently, Casey Affleck is another famous actor that was accused of sexually harassing women. Affleck has had two women press charges on him, claiming that the actor made his way into one of their beds without permission, and tried to force the other woman to stay in his hotel room with him. Despite all of the backlash he received for that, Affleck still managed to win an oscar for best actor at the 2017 Oscars. Thus proving that even with an incriminating history, you can still be a rewarded man in Hollywood.
It seems odd how men in Hollywood can easily bounce back when faced with controversy, while women struggle more to get back to where they once were. Actresses such as Lindsay Lohan and Winona Ryder, faced a slump in their careers after cases of shoplifting and drug use. Meg Ryan’s career also went downhill after she was caught cheating on Dennis Quaid with Russell Crowe. Meanwhile, men like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Brad Pitt still have prosperous careers after their cheating scandals. Why does it seem easier for men to overcome bad publicity than it does for women?
Part of the reason could be the fact that we already live in a male dominant society. Men take up the majority of leadership positions in businesses. In our society, a male boss is seen as more preferable than a female boss. Of course, the same goes for the entertainment business. The sad truth is that there is a massive gender inequality in Hollywood. In 2016, only 7% of directors on the top 250 films were women. Out of the top 100 films, 29% of the protagonists were female. Clearly, it’s much easier for men to get positions in Hollywood than it is for women. If it is already harder for women to get jobs without being involved in a major controversy, then imagine how hard it must be for a woman who has received negative press to resume her career.
Besson is one out of many male directors that shamelessly produce more films after having done something incriminating. If we continue to stay quiet and support the films of people like him, then it is the same as telling Hollywood that we don’t care. If a woman shouldn’t be able to get away with pedophilia, then neither should Luc Besson or any other man.
Author: Starleen Rivera
Editor: Trianna Nguyen
Keshav Kant, aka Mx. KantEven, is a med student tuned Executive Director of Off Colour!
You’ve probably seen her on Twitter and TikTok, both @MxKantEven, or caught her work on Off Colour's many channels.
From consulting on films & shows, manuscript review, conducting interviews, or hosting podcasts & panels, if there is some way to bring sensitivity and authenticity to diversity, inclusion and equity conversations, Keshav will be there.