PARIS — When Adèle Haenel said late last year that she had been abused as a child by a movie director, she became the first prominent actress in France to speak publicly about abuse in the country’s film industry. By then, the #MeToo movement was already two years old.
Families argued about her story at the dinner table. Colleagues discussed it in workplaces. Brigitte Macron, France’s first lady, said Ms. Haenel, 31, deserved “great respect.”
In a recent interview with The New York Times — Ms. Haenel’s first since she aired the accusations in November — the actress urged President Emmanuel Macron’s government to step up its efforts to tackle violence against women.
“The judicial system needs to change to better treat victims of sexual violence,” she said. “On all levels.”
The director Christophe Ruggia, whom Ms. Haenel accused of sexual harassment and inappropriate contact that she said began when she was 12, has denied the accusations through his lawyers. In January, he was charged with sexual assault on a minor under 15, and an inquiry is underway.
Although Ms. Haenel has stayed quiet since airing the accusations, similar stories have followed, including an accusation by the photographer Valentine Monnier that the movie director Roman Polanski raped her in 1975 when she was 18. (Mr. Polanski denies the accusation, although he has previously pleaded guilty to having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl in the United States.)
A few weeks before the American release of her latest movie, “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” Ms. Haenel sat for an interview in Paris. It was followed by a telephone conversation, and the transcript has been edited for clarity and length.
You shared your story three months ago and haven’t spoken publicly since then. How was your testimony received?
My story was like the last gram in a chemistry experiment that made everything fall out of solution. It resonated because French society had gone through a thought process about #MeToo.
I am part of the film world, but today I want to hear from women from other spheres, in academia, in organizations. The enormous number of handwritten letters, messages, emails — from women, but also from men — who had been moved by my story also made me realize that we lacked media stories on survivors of sexual violence in France.
How would you describe how #MeToo has unfolded in France?
There is a #MeToo paradox in France: It is one of the countries where the movement was the most closely followed on social media, but from a political perspective and in cultural spheres, France has completely missed the boat.
Many artists blurred, or wanted to blur, the distinction between sexual behavior and abuse. The debate was centered on the question of [men’s] “freedom to bother,” and on feminists’ purported puritanism. But sexual abuse is abuse, not libertine behavior.
People are talking about it, though, and #MeToo has left its mark. France is boiling over with questions about it.
How did that help you tell your own story?
It helped me realize that mine was not just personal, but one of many women and children, that we all carry. But I didn’t feel ready to share it when #MeToo emerged. It took me a long time to make the personal journey to look at myself as a victim. I also don’t think I moved any faster than French society.
Some politicians in France criticized you for sharing your story in the media without pressing charges initially. Why did you do that?
We have a justice system that doesn’t make violence against women a priority. Some public figures expressed their surprise, but do they know what it takes, today, for a woman to face the judicial system in France? Does anyone take into account the huge challenges that lay along the path of a female victim of sexual violence?
My case is now being treated in an ideal manner, with trained police and investigators who are attentive and well-meaning. I wish all survivors could have treatment like this.
Some women have complained that their cases didn’t receive the same treatment.
Under French law, rape is a sexual act committed with violence, surprise or under constraint: It is centered on the method used by the abuser, not the absence of consent from the victim. But what if during the assault a victim is in total shock? How do you seek justice?
We also have to believe all the women who speak out: Whenever a woman has less power than a man, one suspects her of wanting revenge. We have nothing to gain from coming forward as a victim, and the consequences on our private life are very negative.
President Emmanuel Macron has called French society “sick with sexism” and has vowed to combat violence against women and promote gender equality. How do you see the government’s actions in this regard?
There isn’t enough funding dedicated to changing the situation, and we have in our current government a representative who has been accused of abuse by different women. Keeping him in position sends out the signal that it isn’t so serious.
The government’s sluggish reaction to the #MeToo phenomenon makes you think that the state tolerates an amount of violence against women. It remains accepted to a certain extent.
Many recent conversations about sexual violence in the film world in France have focused on Roman Polanski, who has been nominated for the Césars, the French equivalent of the Oscars, for his latest film “An Officer and a Spy.” You’ve been nominated, too.
Distinguishing Polanski is spitting in the face of all victims. It means raping women isn’t that bad.
When “An Officer and a Spy” was released, we heard outcries about censorship. It isn’t censorship — it’s about choosing who one wants to watch. And old rich white men, rest assured: You own all of the communication channels.
No, real censorship in French film is how some people suffer from invisibility. Where are the people of color in film? The directors of color? There are exceptions, like Ladj Ly, whose film has had enormous success, or Mathi Diop, but that doesn’t reflect the reality of the film world at all. They remain a minority. For now, most stories take the classic white, male, heterosexual point of view.
But “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” offers a different vision of love and human interactions.
We don’t apply a traditional playbook, which is “falling in love without understanding why.” That usually includes domination and unequal power relations that are often considered like a motor for eroticism.
This film frees itself of that. We offer something that politically, artistically, makes us less submissive. It is a new version of desire, a cross between intellectual, carnal and inventive excitement.
What are you plans now? Are they affected by the impact of your story?
It is too early to say, but it doesn’t really matter if it harms my career. I think I did something good for the world, something that makes me feel upright. I am going to act in a play at the end of the year, but I don’t know yet how it has affected the way people see me.
I walk around Paris on foot — I don’t live in a bubble. Sometimes people thank me for speaking out when they see me in the street. When people thank me, it moves me, since the goal was to help. It makes me proud and joyful.