There will be no crush today, only contemplation. You see, it’s never easy to do what is right. It’s even harder when the powerful and famous urge you to do otherwise. But when the facts are this simple and the case this clear, it’s stunning that so many still choose the wrong thing. And, make no mistake, supporting the Free Polanski movement is the wrong thing.
The ugly and undisputed truth is that in 1977 when he was 43 years old, Roman Polanski raped a 13-year-old girl. He brought her to Jack Nicholson’s house with the promise of a photoshoot, gave her a Quaalude, plied her with champagne and then despite her protests and requests to see her mother, raped her repeatedly. Of course, her saying “no” is ultimately moot here because a 13-year-old cannot and could never consent to sex. There is no such thing. But just in case people want to muddy the waters with the canard of consent, yeah, no.
Nor do the victim’s assertions in the years since that she does not want the case pursued anymore change what happened. Just like when victims of domestic violence refuse to press charges against their attackers, the state must step in even if the victim is reluctant. The law is the law and the crime is one against not only the victim but the state. As a society, we do what is in the best interest of both the victim and the community at large. And just in case you still have any lingering ambiguity over whether a crime was committed, you can read the victim’s original grand jury testimony here. It is not a pleasant experience, believe me.
Roman Polanski pled guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor and then, after spending 42 days in custody, he fled the country before he could be sentenced. Since then he has lived a life of artistic and personal freedom, wealth and acclaim overseas. These are just the facts.
That Roman Polanski is a great director is not the question here. He is a great director. “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Chinatown,” “The Pianist.” These are all great films. But the art is not the artist, nor does the art absolve the artist either. What he did was wrong and criminal. It does not matter that he may be a genius. It also doesn’t matter that Roman Polanski had a tragic life. His survival of the Holocaust, the gruesome murder of his wife Sharon Tate; these are all unspeakable things for any human to have to survive. But, once again, they do not negate one’s own ugly actions.
But both these reasons – his genius and his tragedy – have been used as excuses by those seeking to have him freed. And, quite frankly, both reasons make me furious. They smack of an insular elitism that has nothing to do with justice and everything to do with power and privilege. If he wasn’t talented, would his apologists then think it was OK for him to be finally punished for raping a 13-year-old girl? How easy it is through the lens of time to say, “Oh, it was the 70s, everyone did crazy things.” But going to a key party in bell bottoms and drugging and raping a 13-year-old are not the same. The former is a crazy thing, the latter is a despicable crime.
Which bring me to the petitions demanding his release (see them here and here). As we all know, some of the biggest and most influential names in Hollywood have signed including Martin Scorsese, Pedro Almodovar, David Lynch, Jonathan Demme, John Landis, Wes Anderson, Darren Aronofsky, Sam Mendes, Terry Gilliam, Neil Jordan, Steven Soderbergh and Woody Allen. (If that last name doesn’t make you laugh, then you have no sense of irony.) And then there are the ridiculous things Debra Winger and Whoopi Goldberg have said in his defense. But it’s the women on the petitions who truly break my heart. Among them are women I greatly admire like Tilda Swinton, Natalie Portman, Penelope Cruz and Kristin Scott Thomas. Oh God, no.
But, yes. There they are – signed, sealed, delivered. I don’t know their reasoning. I don’t particularly want to know their rationalizations. Because I know already that they are wrong. Rape is a terrible crime that echoes through the lives of its victims forever. Not time, not tragedy, not genius, not anything is an excuse for admittedly raping a 13-year-old girl and then fleeing the country when it came time to face the punishment.
But the silence from the rest of Hollywood is almost as perplexing. This, people, is what makes liberals look bad – their refusal to condemn one of their own. The thing is, lots of progressive men and women abhor Polanski’s actions and applaud his arrest. So many brilliant, eloquent women have spoken out against the Free Polanski nonsense like Eve Ensler, Allison Anders, Carrie Brownstein, Kate Harding, Melissa Silverstein. But we need more and more powerful allies.
So now comes the difficult task of reckoning. Do I still think Roman Polanski is a great director? Yes. Do I think he should be punished for his crimes? Yes. Do I still think Tilda Swinton, Natalie Portman, Penelope Cruz and Kristin Scott Thomas are wonderful actresses? Yes. Do I think they are flat wrong with Free Polanski? Yes. While it’s true that the art is not the artist, the artist must be held accountable for his actions no matter how great the art. What Roman Polanski did 32 years ago by fleeing his fate is deny all of us any possibility of redemption. I’m not sure if a child rapist can be redeemed; I have my doubts. But by never letting justice run its course, he has never taken true responsibility for his actions. Therefore anyone who then defends them is just defending the rape of a child. And that will never, ever be right.