France’s New Culture Minister Rachida Dati Says Movies ‘Save Lives’ in First Address to Entertainment Industry Players

A week after being appointed culture minister and slammed by an avalanche of criticism, famed politician Rachida Dati has officially entered the ring.

Dati went off-script and delivered an unfiltered speech — starting with “I’m not asking you to love me, what I want is to convince you” — to a room full of film and TV players on Thursday evening during a ceremony honoring actor Melvil Poupaud, who received the French Cinema Award.

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While on stage, Dati said she will strive to democratize culture during her tenure.

“Culture in schools and civic sense go hand-in-hand. When you look at schools in certain areas which are ridden with problems, you’ll notice that it’s often places where culture has taken a backseat,” she said. Dati also spoke about her own relationship with culture, admitting she saw a movie in a cinema for the first time at the age of 21 but would watch movies on TV with her mother. “Your movies save lives,” she said. “They humanize us, make us better citizens.”

Dati also spoke about the impact of culture on radicalized youths, some of whom she met while serving as justice minister under former President Nicolas Sarkozy. “I heard some youths who had very dark thoughts tell me, ‘Maybe something is wrong with me’ after seeing a film with a different point of view.”

Dati is currently mayor of the posh 7th arrondissement, where she said she has created cultural opportunities for children from underprivileged families. “It’s crucial that all children have a free access to culture, whether it’s museums, spectacles or concerts,” she said.

Dati, who was appointed on Jan. 11 to succeed Rima Abdul Malak, has been seen as a potential threat to the industry’s unique model of “cultural exception,” where independent, diverse filmmaking is nurtured through subsidies along with other government-backed schemes. But she attempted to diffuse concerns during her handover speech, when she said “everyone knows that I like to fight, so I will always be there to defend this cultural exception.”

The ceremony was co-hosted by French promotion org Unifrance and the National Film Board (CNC). Poupaud was introduced on stage by Unifrance’s new president, Gilles Pelisson, and managing director Daniela Elstner. Among those who gathered were filmmakers and actors like Valerie Donzelli, Nicolas Saada, Chiara Mastroianni and Benjamin Biolay.

Past recipients of the French Cinema Award include actor Juliette Binoche, director Olivier Assayas and producers Aton Soumache and Dimitri Rassam, among others.

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