AWFJ Women On Film – The Week In Women, October 2, 2009 – MaryAnn Johanson

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Why is Hollywood defending a rapist?

ROMAN POLANSKI, RAPIST, ARRESTED. There’s only one story about Hollywood’s attitudes toward women this week, and it’s the outcry over the arrest of Roman Polanski in Switzerland for jumping bail more than 30 years ago as he was about to be sentenced for raping a 13-year-old girl after plying her with booze and drugs.

The arrest sounds like a good thing, does it not?

A fugitive from justice who admitted to committing a terrible crime has been apprehended. But lots of famous Hollywood names are crying foul… including many women:

Woody Allen, David Lynch and Martin Scorsese today added their names to a petition demanding the immediate release of Roman Polanski from detention in Zurich. The director was arrested on Saturday over a three-decade-old underage sex case when he arrived to receive a lifetime achievement award at the city’s film festival.

The petition has now been signed by more than 70 film industry luminaries, including Polanski’s fellow directors Michael Mann, Wim Wenders, Pedro Almodóvar, Darren Aronofsky, Terry Gilliam, Julian Schnabel, the Dardenne brothers, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Wong Kar-Wai, Walter Salles and

Jonathan Demme. Actors Tilda Swinton, Monica Bellucci and Asia Argento, as well as producer Harvey Weinstein, have also put their names on the petition.

Yesterday, Weinstein stated he was “calling on every film-maker we can to help fix this terrible situation”.

The five members of the jury at the Zurich film festival, headed by the actor Debra Winger, yesterday released a statement protesting

that the event “had been exploited in an unfair fashion”.

The defenders of Polanski have come up with some bizarre justifications for their attitudes. Anne Applebaum in the Washington Post believes that because Polanski’s victim has forgiven him that means the case is over, and that Polanski has been punished enough:

[H]e has paid for the crime in many, many ways: In notoriety, in lawyers’ fees, in professional stigma. He could not return to Los Angeles to receive his recent Oscar. He cannot visit Hollywood to direct or

cast a film.

Of course, many victims forgive those who have harmed them. The debt that the criminals owe to society nevertheless remains unpaid by that forgiveness. And a life of luxury that fails to include regular visits to Southern California simply isn’t “punishment.” Also:

He can be blamed, it is true, for his original, panicky decision to flee. But for this decision I see mitigating circumstances, not least an understandable fear of irrational punishment. Polanski’s mother died in Auschwitz. His father survived Mauthausen. He himself survived the Krakow ghetto, and later emigrated from communist Poland. His pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered in 1969 by the followers of Charles Manson, though for a time Polanski himself was a suspect.

So: victims of terrible crimes are allowed a free pass to commit terrible crimes themselves. I wonder how many felons we must now release from prison.

Patrick Goldstein in the Los Angeles Times believes that rape is akin to stealing a loaf of bread:

We live in an age that is so thoroughly post-modern that you can find an obvious literary antecedent for nearly every seamy media storyline. The same goes for the Polanski case, which is full of echoes of “Les Miserables,” the classic Victor Hugo novel about Jean Valjean, an ex-con trying to turn his life around who is being obsessively tracked and hunted down by the Parisian police inspector Javert.

And there we have it: Crimes against women simply are not worth punishing. Whoopi Goldberg, shockingly, tried to downplay Polanski’s crime by insisting that it wasn’t “rape-rape” (via Jezebel):

I know it wasn’t rape-rape. It was something else but I don’t believe it was rape-rape.

Lindsay at Jezebel gets it:

What is worrisome about Whoopi’s argument is that she refuses to call a 43 year old man having sex with an unconscious 13 year old girl “rape”. She may have personal, possibly guilty-parent reasons

for not accepting this, but as tangled up as this case is, the fact that it was rape is one of the least controversial things about it. Roman Polanski admitted to drugging and having sex with a child, and in the country in which he did it, that is rape. (Though nice try Whoopi with the “Europeans have sex with children all the time!” argument, or whatever that was.)

As CNN commentator Roland S. Martin wrote this week:

If a famous child actress such as Tatum O’Neal, Anna Paquin, Dakota Fanning or Natalie Portman were raped by a stalker who pleaded guilty to the crime and then fled the country and lived a life of luxury in Europe for 32 years, would Hollywood heavyweights be standing behind the convicted rapist?

Hell no.

A few voices in the movie community are pushing back.

Brad Brevet at Rope of Silicon is steaming mad:

Did you know read what Debra Winger, standing in as Zurich Film Festival jury president, was quoted saying with regard to Roman Polanski’s recent arrest? “We hope today this latest order will be dropped [as] it is based on a three-decade-old case that is all but dead but for minor technicalities,” she said. “We stand by and wait for [Roman Polanski’s] release and his next masterwork.”

What? Does she even know what she is saying? Does the addition of “minor technicalities” in that statement make it any better? I would be interested to hear her explanation as to these “technicalities,” and if it’s that simple why wouldn’t Polanski have returned to the U.S. since he fled 31 years ago? Doesn’t Polanski’s continued time abroad as well as requests to have the charges dropped insinuate he would return if he wasn’t worried about facing the music these minor technicalities?

Like I said when I posted the news saying director Roman Polanski was taken into custody in Zurich and was facing extradition to Los Angeles, I wasn’t going to get into the debate as to what should and what should not happen, but Winger’s insistence that the entire matter be washed away because it’s a 31-year-old case is plain and simple lunacy. The only reason it’s a “three-decade-old case” is because Polanski fled the United States and hasn’t returned since.

And Fred Silberberg at TheWrap is equally firm in his anger at Hollywood:

While there may be issues surrounding Polanski’s 1977 conviction, Polanski himself has not allowed anyone to delve into those issues because he has refused to allow himself to be held accountable. Having made that choice, we must assume that Polanski’s guilty plea had merit.

On a regular basis we hear about sexual predators and the concerns that our citizens have about them. There are ongoing stories in the news about people placed in the registry of sex offenders, about our neighbors not wanting to be their neighbors. It seems to be the consensus that child sex

offenders are the “lowest of the low,” treated with disdain by all of society.

This disdain apparently does not apply to Mr. Polanski. Instead of being excoriated, he is honored by the film industry. Now that he’s been caught, people are outraged. It seems absurd that success in Hollywood is a free pass for molesting a child.

Instead of supporting Polanski all these years, Hollywood should have told him to answer for the crime. There simply cannot be a double standard simply because the perpetrator is a member of the Hollywood elite.

Perhaps it’s just that, as Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian suggested, Polanski merely got caught for something everyone was doing:

Hollywood in the 70s was a lurid time, and no one thinks that Polanski’s behaviour was atypical. Those mega-stars of the LA film and music scene were not exactly known for checking the birth certificates of the young women admitted to the poolside parties and backstage bacchanals. Just before his political triumph in 2003 as the new governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger apologised for “offensive” behaviour after being faced with a number of different sexual harassment lawsuits from 1975 to 2000.

The culture of sexual behaviour in 70s Hollywood was entirely different – even for those considered then and now to be the respectable good guys.

and so, perhaps, doesn’t deserve to be punished, as none of his peers have been punished for their similar wrongdoing. I’d like to think that was not the explanation. But I don’t know what other reason there can be for anyone to suggest that a man who raped a child and has been on the run for decades to avoid being punished for it should go free.

OPENING THIS WEEK. Whip It, Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut about one teen’s experiences with an all-female tournament roller derby team, is a wonderful movie by women and about women that men and women alike can enjoy. A few films like this could begin to

convince me that the attitudes the Polanski debate are revealing are things of the past, and not of the future.

See the AWFJ’s regular weekly roundup of female-powered films for more.

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MaryAnn Johanson

MaryAnn Johanson is a freelance writer on film, TV, DVD, and pop culture from New York City and now based in London. She is the webmaster and sole critic at FlickFilosopher.com, which debuted in 1997 and is now one of the most popular, most respected, and longest-running movie-related sites on the Internet. Her film reviews also appear in a variety of alternative-weekly newspapers across the U.S. Johanson is one of only a few film critics who is a member of The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences (the Webby organization), an invitation-only, 500-member body of leading Web experts, business figures, luminaries, visionaries and creative celebrities. She is also a member of the Online Film Critics Society. She has appeared as a cultural commentator on BBC Radio, LBC-London, and on local radio programs across North America, and she served as a judge at the first Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Film Festival at the 2003 I-Con, the largest SF convention on the East Coast. She is the author of The Totally Geeky Guide to The Princess Bride, and is an award-winning screenwriter. Read Johanson's recent articles below. For her AWFJ.org archive, type "MaryAnn Johanson" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).