What Does Hollywood’s Reverence for Child Rapist Roman Polanski Tell Us? by Hadley Freeman
… On 1 February 1978, after 42 days in jail, Polanski fled the US while awaiting final sentencing, having pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. On these facts, everyone agrees.
There are no hazy conspiracy theories – we know exactly what happened because Polanski admitted to it and later wrote about it in astonishing detail in his autobiography, Roman by Polanski, published six years after he left the US and went to France, where he still lives.
… But, in truth, for many British and US actors, working with Polanski never lost its cachet, and arguably had even more once he became excluded from the US mainstream.
Sigourney Weaver, Harrison Ford, Johnny Depp, Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Kate Winslet and many more have appeared in Polanski movies in the decades since his conviction, and questions about why they were working with a convicted child rapist were seen as tacky, proof of a rigid mind more focused on gossip than art.
…When the Harvey Weinstein story broke last October, the reaction among the movie industry was wide-eyed shock that someone so many of them knew and worked with could be a rapist. “I didn’t know. I don’t tacitly approve of rape,” said Meryl Streep.
And yet only a decade and a half earlier, Streep had stood and applauded when Polanski won best director at the 2003 Oscars, not so much tacitly approving rape as explicitly celebrating a convicted child rapist. If only anyone had known about Weinstein they would never – never! – have worked with him, movie insiders say. And yet, for the past 40 years, many of them have been falling over themselves to work with a self-confessed child rapist, even defending him by pointing to his artistic credentials.
…By the beginning of this century, while thegeneral American public remained firmly set against Polanski, the mood in Hollywood was openly in his favour.
…I wrote about the documentary for this paper when it came out, as it struck me as astonishingly exculpatory. After all, no matter how badly the legal system failed Polanski, this didn’t cancel out the fact that he raped a child.
…While researching this article I had a couple of off-the-record discussions with actors and film-makers about their true feelings about Polanski. One admitted they regretted their previous support, given the new allegations, but couldn’t bring themselves to say so publicly. But mainly I heard people insist their friend is not a rapist.
…It’s remarkable how much energy Polanski’s supporters have expended defending him, given that the director himself has always been extremely clear about why he did what he did: he is sexually attracted to ‘young girls’, and he has never seen this as a problem. After all, when he was told he was being arrested for rape he was genuinely shocked: “I was incredulous; I couldn’t equate what had happened the day before with rape in any form,” he writes in his autobiography.
If you’d like to read the remainder of the article, it’s on The Guardian’s site
May 2018 Update:
The Academy, in a move that comes approximately 41 years too late, expelled the director; he now says he’ll appeal the ruling.
…Polanski, through all this, has retained the most basic avatar of breezy impunity: his position as a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
He has been one of the people charged with determining the films that constitute the best of what American cinema—as a business and as an artistic pursuit and as, the Academy is fond of suggesting, a matter of humanism itself—has to offer.
Which is also to say that, more practically, he has been one of the people who shape what American popular culture chooses to see and to celebrate in its entertainments.
For years, there Polanski remained: a reminder of who loses when celebrity is pitted against decency, and a testament to Hollywood’s great capacity to say one thing about itself and mean, in the end, quite another.
Until, that is, this year. On Thursday, the Academy announced that it had expelled Polanski, along with Bill Cosby—making the two men only the third and fourth people to have been ousted from the organization over its long history.