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Kobe Bryant has been removed from the Animation Is Film Festival jury following backlash stemming from a 2003 rape allegation. Though the former L.A. Lakers star was set to serve as a juror at the annual event this weekend in Hollywood, organizers announced on Wednesday that he will no longer participate.
“After discussions with the various stakeholders of Animation Is Film, the decision has been made to remove Kobe Bryant from the 2018 jury,” Eric Beckman, founder of the festival and CEO of GKIDS, said in a statement. “We are a young organization, and it is important to keep our collective energies focused on the films, the participating filmmakers and our festival attendees.”
Last week, a petition was created on Change.org for Bryant — who won an Oscar for his 2017 short Dear Basketball — to be removed from the roster of jurors due to an accusation of sexual assault made against him in the past.
“This is an urgent time to say NO to toxic and violent behavior against women,” the petition — which only garnered 159 signatures — read. “Keeping Kobe Bryant on the jury sets a precedent of lenience for sexual criminals and further undermines the visibility and respect that victims of harassment and assault deserve.”
Bryant responded to his removal from the Animation Is Film jury in a statement, obtained by The Hollywood Reporter.
“I was honored to have been originally invited by Animation Is Film to serve on the 2018 Jury, and am disappointed to no longer serve in that capacity,” Bryant said. “This decision further motivates me and my commitment to building a studio that focuses on diversity and inclusion in storytelling for the animation industry. I remain focused on changing the world in positive ways through diverse stories, characters and leadership, in order to inspire the next generation.”
Bryant was arrested in July 2003 after a 19-year-old hotel employee claimed she was raped by the then-24-year-old player. The woman refused to testify and the case was later dropped. Bryant, now 40, said he was under the impression that their interaction was consensual and publicly apologized in a statement at the time.
“Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did,” Bryant said in part. “After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.”
Bryant — who retired from the NBA in 2016 — and the hotel employee eventually resolved the case to the “satisfaction of both parties” in March 2005.
Oct. 17, 12:00 p.m. Updated with a statement from the Animation Is Film Festival.
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