Unless you've been under a rock for the past couple of days, you've probably heard about the Roman Polanski drama currently blazing here and across the pond. Here are the basics: back in 1977, Polanski was arrested for drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl. He arranged a plea bargain with the judge, but when it seemed like the judge was going to throw him in jail longer than he expected, Polanksi fled the United States and since then has carefully avoided visiting any countries that might send him back. But last week, Swiss authorities nabbed him at the Zurich airport, and now, everyone from Hollywood to the Huffington Post to the French culture minister is defending him.
So why defend a rapist? Because he's 'brilliant,' says Debra Tate, sister of Sharon Tate. Because the victim says she doesn't want the case pursued any further. Because Polanski's had a hard, tragedy-filled life.
All of those things are true. Polanski IS a brilliant director -- anyone who's seen Rosemary's Baby, The Pianist, or Chinatown can tell you that. The victim DID say she doesn't want this pursued any further. But that's not surprising -- rape victims don't usually want to relive their experience over and over again in front of a courtroom, and in this case, in front of the whole world. And yes, Polanski HAS had a tragedy-filled life. But so have lots of criminals -- does that mean we should give them a free pass to Europe whenever they don't feel like going to jail?
Then there's the 'gray area' argument. 'The girl consented! Her mother pushed her into it! Polanski didn't know she was 13!' But you know what? There is no gray area. Even if the victim had consented (which she didn't), she was 13 years old at the time. The age of consent in California back then was 16, which means that he did something illegal no matter how you slice it. Also, she didn't consent! She testified in court that she repeatedly said no and he kept right on doing what he was doing. I'm no lawyer, but that sounds like rape to me, no matter how old Polanski thought she was.
So if all of these things are true, why is everyone coming to his defense? According to the UK Guardian, such Hollywood luminaries as Harvey Weinstein, Woody Allen, Tilda Swinton, Pedro Almodovar, David Lynch, and Martin Scorcese have all signed a petition asking for Polanski's release. Seriously, people? He raped a 13-year-old girl! He fled the country to avoid punishment! He deserves to be punished, no matter how many Oscars he has or how long ago it happened.
If this were any other person in the entire world, he would already be behind bars, or at least in a courtroom trying to defend himself. But because he's famous, and he's 'brilliant,' everyone seems to think he can follow a different set of laws. Well, he can't. He's a rapist. He's a lot of other things too, but he's also that, and he can't just hide in Europe because he doesn't feel like going to jail.
In the mean time, the rest of us need to work on coming to terms with the fact that great artists are capable of doing bad things, just like everybody else in the world. That doesn't mean you can't ever watch Chinatown again -- but it does mean that you can't make excuses for a rapist just because he made Chinatown.
For an awesome article on the subject, check out Kate Harding's piece on Salon.com.
photo courtesy guardian.co.uk