Common Roman Polanski Defenses, Refuted
Roman Polanski, the 76-year-old filmmaker who was accused of drugging and raping 13-year-old Samantha Geimer in 1977, has been arrested in Switzerland. Polanski, who was convicted of having sex with a minor but fled to France before he could be sentenced, is currently facing extradition back to the United States, where he could finally be sentenced for his 32-year-old conviction. In the wake of Polanski's belated arrest, commentators have posed dozens of arguments in the Oscar-winning director's defense. Most of them are bullshit.
"But he's already paid his price, because everyone knows he's a rapist, and he can never work in Hollywood."
As Patrick Goldstein wrote in the LA Times, "I think Polanski has already paid a horrible, soul-wrenching price for the infamy surrounding his actions. The real tragedy is that he will always, till his death, be snubbed and stalked and confronted by people who think the price he has already paid isn't enough."
Ahh: "the real tragedy." Some people may be under the impression that a 13-year-old being drugged and raped by a 44-year-old man constitutes a "real tragedy." Others may contend that both Polanski and his rape victim have suffered "real tragedies" in their lifetimes. But no, there can only be one the real tragedy, and it is that people have "snubbed" Roman Polanski because he raped someone and skipped town. If only the recognition of the Academy Awards, the BAFTAs, the Berlin International Film Festival, Cannes, the Directors Guild of America, the Golden Globes, the Independent Spirit Awards, the Stokholm Film Festival, the Venice Film Festival, and dozens of other awards organizations could begin to heal that wound.
"But he escaped the Holocaust / his mother died at Auschwitz / His wife was killed by Charles Manson"
Talk about real tragedies: These, of course, are real tragedies. Upon hearing of Polanski's arrest, French Minister of Culture Frederic Mitterrand announced that he "strongly regrets that a new ordeal is being inflicted on someone who has already experienced so many of them."
This is a fair argument—and one that can be made about many, many people convicted of crimes in the United States. A lot of the people who are locked up behind bars have endured unspeakable traumas in their own lives—sexual assault, poverty, drug addiction, gang life, homelessness, and mental illness. Why are they held accountable for their actions, while Polanski gets to be like, "Peace, I'm just going to chill in France for thirty years, try not to rape anybody else, and maybe win an Oscar. See you guys later"? It's not because of what he endured. It's because he makes movies.
But let's say, for argument's sake, that Polanski isn't getting a break because he's famous, but rather because he's had a hard life. When France decries "the ordeal" being "inflicted" on Polanski, what the country is really saying is that rape is not important because it's not as horrific as the Holocaust, and not as evil as Charles Manson. And that's a pretty fucked-up standard, oui?
"But he made The Pianist / Chinatown / Rosemary's Baby / Revulsion."
Congratulations, the Huffington Post's Kim Morgan: You win the prize of penning the most disgusting defense of Polanski I've read to date! Morgan prefaces her post by saying she is "not going to go into my Roman Polanski defense," but suffice to say she is "not happy about his arrest." Instead of getting bogged down by the legal gobbledygook, Morgan shoots off a blog post entitled "Roman Polanski Understands Women." Seriously.
"One should not," she writes, "take Polanski's films literally, for they are often heightened versions of what occurs naturally in our world: desire, perversion, repulsion." Okay, but how about his rape of a 13-year-old girl? Are we allowed to take that "natural occurrence" literally? Morgan doesn't directly address that question, but she does argue that Polanski's very brilliance is a product of his relationship with human "darkness":
Polanski's removed morality is exactly why he is often brilliant: He is so empathetic to his characters that, like a trauma victim floating above the pain, he is personally impersonal. He insightfully scrutinizes what is so frightening about being human, yet he doesn't feel the need to be resolute or sentimental about his cognizance. He is also, consciously or subconsciously, aware of the darkness he explores, especially in his female characters, who could be seen as extensions of himself.
You know what I find revolting? When a film critic prefaces her work with a disclaimer about how much it sucks that a rapist is getting arrested for raping someone, and then uses the rapiest imagery possible to applaud his film work. Nope! Sorry! Understanding Women is not a valid defense against rape. Similarly, being a really marvelous film director doesn't mean that you get to rape someone and not go to prison. Even if you made The Pianist.
Remember: making The Pianist and being a rapist are not mutually exclusive.
"But the girl's mother made him rape her."
Oops, nevermind, this one is actually an even more disgusting defense of Roman Polanski, also on the Huffington Post:
The 13-year old model 'seduced' by Polanski had been thrust onto him by her mother, who wanted her in the movies. The girl was just a few weeks short of her 14th birthday, which was the age of consent in California. (It's probably 13 by now!) Polanski was demonized by the press, convicted, and managed to flee, fearing a heavy sentence. I met Polanski shortly after he fled America and was filming Tess in Normandy. I was working in the CBS News bureau in Paris, and I accompanied Mike Wallace for a Sixty Minutes interview with Polanski on the set. Mike thought he would be meeting the devil incarnate, but was utterly charmed by Roman's sobriety and intelligence.
So, Polanski is just a really special guy who was practically forced to have sex with that 13-year-old girl by her mother. It's almost as if Roman Polanski was raped by that 13-year-old girl. Also, no, the age of consent in California is not "13 by now," it is 16 18 (!!). By the by: the author of this little gem is Joan Z. Shore, co-founder of Women Overseas for Equality. Thanks, Joan, for your deft approach to women's issues!
"But he didn't know she was 13."
"But 13 is old enough to consent to sex"
Let's assume that, like Joan Shore and others have suggested, age 13 is old enough to consent to sex, and Polanski is merely a victim of the Puritanical sex laws of the U.S.A. If that's true, then surely 13 would be old enough to say no to sex, right? Because here's what Geimer said happened at the one-on-one Vogue shoots:
According to Geimer in a 2003 interview, "Everything was going fine; then he asked me to change, well, in front of him." She added, "It didn't feel right, and I didn't want to go back to the second shoot."
Geimer later agreed to a second session, which took place on March 10, 1977 at the Mulholland area home of actor Jack Nicholson in Los Angeles. "We did photos with me drinking champagne," Geimer says. "Toward the end it got a little scary, and I realized he had other intentions and I knew I was not where I should be. I just didn't quite know how to get myself out of there." She recalled in a 2003 interview that she began to feel uncomfortable after he asked her to lie down on a bed, and how she attempted to resist. "I said, ‘No, no. I don’t want to go in there. No, I don’t want to do this. No!", and then I didn’t know what else to do,” she stated.
That's rape, whether you are 13 years old or 14 or 16 or 44 or 76.
"But the American justice system is fucked up."
Granted. But if we're going to talk about the fuck-up-edness of the U.S. legal system, surely we can find a better martyr than a famous rich guy with the best lawyers in the world who drugged and raped a 13-year-old girl, struck a plea deal in order to get off with the lesser charge of "unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor" (or statutory rape), and then fled the country when it looked like the plea deal may not be honored? I'm all for Polanski being tried legally and fairly. Over the years, Polanski has repeatedly attempted to appeal the case—a really cool feature of the American legal process he purposefully evaded—but he refuses to appear in court.
Excuse me while I play the world's tiniest piano, but if the American legal system is broken, the fix is not for rapists to just choose their own adventure (in this case, France).
"But his victim has forgiven him"
From Applebaum's column: "The girl, now 45, has said more than once that she forgives him, that she can live with the memory, that she does not want him to be put back in court or in jail, and that a new trial will hurt her husband and children."
It's certainly a relief to hear that Geimer, after three decades and a settled civil suit against Polanski, has moved on from her childhood sexual assault. Of course, a victim's should always be considered over the course of a trial. At the same time, forgiveness, sympathy, and identification with one's attacker are fairly common in sexual assault cases, and these sentiments don't make sexual assault any less damaging—or any more legal. Again, you can argue that Polanski is an example of how the American legal system unduly punishes its criminals, but until you're willing to free all the nation's sex offenders and make them promise to just keep their cool until their victims get around to forgiving them, it's not a very solid argument.
"But his victim doesn't want to have to relive her assault again."
Now we're getting somewhere. Samantha Geimer, like many victims of sexual assault, is justified in holding a grudge against the criminal justice system. When a rape victim decides to report her assault to the police, she's looking at years of intense police, legal, and media scrutiny. She will have to relive her assault over and over again over the course of trial and investigation. She will have her sexual history dredged up and put on display. These are all big deterrents to reporting sexual assault. But while a sexual assault victim may never personally recover from the trauma, the public scrutiny, at least, usually ends with the sentencing.
Unless, of course, your attacker is a famous movie director who refuses to be sentenced, in which case you will be forced to relive your assault: a) every time your attacker attempts to cross another country's borders; b) every time your attacker releases a new film; c) every time your attacker attempts to have his conviction overturned; d) every time your attacker does anything noteworthy. The fact that Geimer's childhood sexual assault has haunted her in the press for 30 years is a real tragedy, and one man is responsible for that: Roman Polanski.