Kobe Bryant Removed from a Film Festival Jury Over the 2003 Rape Allegation Made Against Him


Kobe Bryant has been removed from the jury of an upcoming film festival at the behest of a Change.org petition that said the former NBA star should not be involved due to the 2003 rape allegation made against him, according to Variety. (At the time, Bryant had said any relations were consensual; he pleaded not guilty to felony charges, which were later dismissed; and he settled a related civil suit).
The 40 year old — who won an Academy Award earlier this year for his work on the animated short film Dear Basketball — was set to participate in the Animation Is Film Festival this weekend in Los Angeles.
In a statement to Variety, Eric Beckman — the CEO of GKIDS, the producer of the event — said, “After discussions with the various stakeholders of Animation Is Film, the decision has been made to remove Kobe Bryant from the 2018 jury. 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.”
The Animation Is Film Festival did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
In response to the festival’s decision to remove him from the jury, Bryant tells PEOPLE in a statement, “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.”
His statement continues, “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.”
In 2003, Bryant pled not guilty to felony sexual assault after a 19-year-old employee of a Vail-area resort accused him of rape, PEOPLE reported at the time. The woman claimed the then-Los Angeles Lakers player also blocked her from leaving his room and allegedly choked her. Criminal charges against the athlete were eventually dropped, and a civil case brought against Bryant was settled out of court.
Bryant claimed the encounter was consensual and apologized to the woman in a statement read in court, saying in part, “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,” the New York Times reported.
The Change.org petition, started by Women and Allies, hearkens back to the incident and reads in part: “This is an urgent time to say NO to toxic and violent behavior against women. For this reason, we ask that GKIDS, Variety & Annecy take a stand in support of women. 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.”
The film festival’s website says its purpose is to “champion and support” not only filmmakers who use animation in unconventional ways, but also specifically highlight women filmmakers.