Noted child rapist Roman Polanski is back in the news. Yesterday, a Los Angeles County judge denied Polanski's request that his 1977 case be resolved in his absence so he can return to the US. "There is no sufficient or compelling basis for reconsideration of these issues," Judge Scott M. Gordon ruled, according to the New York Times.
Let's catch up: Back in 1977, Roman Polanski was arrested and charged with the rape of a 13-year-old girl. He pled guilty to statutory rape, though not to other charges of criminal behavior, and served 42 days in prison before being released on probation as part of an apparent plea bargain. But then, after hearing a rumor that the judge planned to reject the plea bargain and sentence him to 50 years, Polanski fled the country to Paris. Ever since, Polanski has stayed out of the United States so that he can avoid sentencing, living and working in Europe instead.
However, unfortunately but unsurprisingly, admitting to raping a child did not damage Polanski's career. He went on to make over a dozen films and rack up over a dozen Oscar nominations, including a win for Best Director in 2003. Like Woody Allen, Polanski's case shows just how little Hollywood cares about sexual assault allegations against successful white men.
Bringing it up in the BUST office, I found out that most people younger than me don't remember when this happened, so let's look back to eight years ago. In September 2009, Polanski was arrested in Switzerland at the request of US authorities, and over 100 people in the film industry signed a petition calling for his release. (Polanski was jailed for two months and then put under house arrest; in July 2010, Swiss authorities rejected the US's request for extradition and released Polanski from custody.) Those people included celebrities who have progressive views, and even some who speak out against sexism and sexual abuse in other situations.
The names on the petition include Natalie Portman, Tilda Swinton, Isabelle Huppert, Penelope Cruz, Diane von Furstenberg, Wes Anderson, Darren Aronofsky, Martin Scorsese, Monica Bellucci, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Harmony Korine, Ethan Cohen, David Lynch, and Harrison Ford. (Also, Woody Allen, but who's surprised there?)
Emma Thompson originally signed the petition, but later asked for her name to be removed after a conversation with a 19-year-old college student and activist, Caitlin Hayward-Tapp.
The petition is no longer available online, but all these sources have partial lists: IndieWire, CNN, Jezebel, the Huffington Post, Feminist Guide To Hollywood, The Wrap, the Independent, the Guardian.
Other celebrities did not sign the petition but spoke out in support of Polanski in other ways, including Meryl Streep and Whoopi Goldberg.
Let's remember: It doesn't matter how good your movies are. Rapists should have to face consequences.
In 2009, Kate Harding — who later published the book Asking For It: The Alarming Rise Of Rape Culture — And What We Can Do About It — wrote an essay about the petition that began:
Roman Polanski raped a child. Let's just start right there, because that's the detail that tends to get neglected when we start discussing whether it was fair for the bail-jumping director to be arrested at age 76, after 32 years in "exile" (which in this case means owning multiple homes in Europe, continuing to work as a director, marrying and fathering two children, even winning an Oscar, but never — poor baby — being able to return to the U.S.). Let's keep in mind that Roman Polanski gave a 13-year-old girl a Quaalude and champagne, then raped her, before we start discussing whether the victim looked older than her 13 years, or that she now says she'd rather not see him prosecuted because she can't stand the media attention. Before we discuss how awesome his movies are or what the now-deceased judge did wrong at his trial, let's take a moment to recall that according to the victim's grand jury testimony, Roman Polanski instructed her to get into a jacuzzi naked, refused to take her home when she begged to go, began kissing her even though she said no and asked him to stop; performed cunnilingus on her as she said no and asked him to stop; put his penis in her vagina as she said no and asked him to stop; asked if he could penetrate her anally, to which she replied, "No," then went ahead and did it anyway, until he had an orgasm.
Can we do that? Can we take a moment to think about all that, and about the fact that Polanski pled guilty to unlawful sex with a minor, before we start talking about what a victim he is? Because that would be great, and not nearly enough people seem to be doing it.
Top photo: Polanski in 2011, via Wikimedia Commons
Published April 4, 2017
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Erika W. Smith is BUST's digital editorial director. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @erikawynn and email her at email@example.com.