How Many Women Have to Accuse Polanski of Assault Before We Stop Honoring Him?
In 1977, Roman Polanski pled guilty to the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl. Since then, four other women have come forward with similar accusations. Despite this, he's being honored with a retrospective in France tonight.
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It's been quite a month for exposing film industry creeps (see: Harvey Weinstein, James Toback, and as of last night, Kevin Spacey—to name a few) but La Cinémathèque Française apparently hasn't gotten the memo. In a distasteful turn of events, the French film organization will be honoring director and convicted child rapist Roman Polanski, 84, tonight with a retrospective of his work (which includes Repulsion, Rosemary's Baby, and Chinatown)—and the self-exiled filmmaker will be in attendance.
French feminist group Osez le féminisme had organized a petition against Polanski's in-person appearance, stating that it was "indecent" and "an insult to all the women who mobilized around the #MeToo and #BalanceTonPorc hashtags." Despite garnering more than 27,000 signatures, the petition was ignored by the Cinémathèque. Since the retrospective will continue with Polanski in attendance, feminist groups have decided to protest the event. In response, the Cinémathèque's head, director Costa-Gavras has said, "We don't give out prizes or certificates for good behavior. Our ambition is different: to show the complete work of filmmakers and to place them in the permanent history of the Cinémathèque." Just this past January, a petition demanding Polanski's resignation as the host of the Cesar awards gathered more than 61,000 signatures and forced him to step down.
The timing of this event honoring a convicted rapist as a Hollywood darling is offensive and tone-deaf, to say the least, but it's not just about bad optics. This is yet another frustrating instance of a sexually abusive man not only getting away with assault, but being honored despite it. There are no what-ifs about Polanski's case, either, since it is public knowledge: Polanski was charged with statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl, Samantha Geimer, and pleaded guilty in 1977. According to Geimer, Polanski had given her champagne and Quaaludes, and repeatedly raped her. Shortly after, in 1978, Polanski fled the U.S. to avoid sentencing. Recently, Geimer publicly forgave him "as an act of mercy to myself and my family." Polanski has been quietly living out his life in Europe ever since.
Even fully aware of his crimes, the film industry never ostracized Polanski. In fact, he's been regularly making movies with celebrities like Harrison Ford and Ewan McGregor, and his work continues to be celebrated. He even won a Best Director Oscar for his 2003 film The Pianist. And he has an upcoming movie as well, titled Based on a True Story, which he cowrote with Personal Shopper director Olivier Assayas.
Lesser known are the more recent accusations against Polanski. Two weeks ago, artist Marianne Barnard claimed that Polanski had molested her during a photoshoot in 1972 when she was only 10 years old. Barnard said she was inspired to speak out after seeing women do the same against Weinstein. Barnard's is the fifth accusation against Polanski, following three recent ones. Earlier this month, German actress Renate Langer also said Polanski had raped her—twice—when she was a child. In August, a woman who only gave the name "Robin M." came forward saying that Polanski had raped her when she was 16 years old. In 2010, actress Charlotte Lewis, who had appeared in Polanski's 1986 film Pirates, also said Polanski had assaulted her at 16.
If La Cinémathèque Française is truly interested in "showing the complete work of filmmakers," there's a long list of people who deserve to be celebrated.
The conversation about consuming art made by bad people continues to be a complicated one, but it seems rather uncomplicated to choose to celebrate someone other than convicted child rapist (and alleged repeat-offender) Roman Polanski. But seeing as how coming forward about sexual assault has a snowball effect—finding courage from other victims to speak up—it's important that we continue to listen to people who have been silenced, expose these monsters, and protest. In a troubled history of men being forgiven for their crimes, this recent revelation has seen some progress: Weinstein was ousted from his own company and the Academy. Maybe Polanski is next.