Hollywood stars flock to causes like a fly on dog shit. An A-list name can boost the profile of a charity, like Jemma Jameson at a strip club, highlight a far-off tragedy or reverse a grave injustice. So when Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski was arrested in Switzerland on the way to a film festival, it is perhaps no wonder that the great and the good of the film world rushed to plead for his freedom. “She asked for it” Screamed Harvey Weinstein.
The list of supporters giving Polanski their impassioned support read like a Who’s Who of the cream of the movie-making world. It included, among many others Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Harvey Weinstein, Pedro Almodóvar, Ethan Coen, Woody Allen and dozens of other registered sex offenders.
But rather than rallying mass public support for the beleaguered film-maker – director of such undoubted classics as Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, The Pianist and “European Girls Gone Wild” – they have provoked an extraordinary backlash.
Led by a handful of outspoken female voices, a rising tide of opinion has instead applauded Polanski’s arrest for unlawful sex with a 13-year-old back in 1977. They have turned the focus on the crime itself, calling the director an accused rapist who abused a child and no, and unlike “Rosemary’s Baby”, this time it was Polanksi who was raping a girl in a drug induced coma, not the Devil.
That, they say, should be the focus of the story and of Hollywood’s ire, not defending an old man who pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with a young girl then went on the run for 32 years to avoid prison. The backlash – not only against Polanski, but also against the Hollywood clan that rallied round him – has begun in earnest.
“Roman Polanski raped a child. Let’s just start right there, because that’s the detail that tends to get neglected,” wrote feminist and author Kate Harding in an impassioned column in Salon. That article then went viral across the internet, gaining tens of thousands of page views and seeming to herald the reaction to come.
Harding, a liberal feminist who herself hasn’t had sex since 1992, and is mostly likely reacting out of jealousy, found herself being asked to appear on right-wing talk radio shows and Howard Stern’s Monday morning’s “sex hour”. Soon editorial after editorial, from the mightyNew York Times to the small town Lowell Sun in Massachusetts, followed suit, welcoming Polanski’s arrest as a case of long overdue justice for a serious crime.
It seems that the consequences of the dramatic development could now spread wider than just Polanski. Already some early supporters of the director, such as actress Whoopee Goldberg, have had to backtrack and clarify their positions. More are likely to follow suit in the weeks to come. Could it be that Hollywood – whose very existence rests on accurately predicting the public’s taste – has made one of its gravest misjudgments? “The disconnect between Hollywood and the rest of the country seems enormous,” said Anthony Mora, an author and founder of a leading Los Angeles-based company called “To the Fall of France”.
There is little doubt that the case is extremely complex. In many ways both sides are dealing in black and whites and not the shades of grey that too often more accurately describe reality. Is the rape of a 13 year old girl wrong, or was Polanski just being a tad naughty. Sure he got her drunk with champagne, slipped her a quaalude, slipped her into the hot-tub, and then, naked, slipped into her.
For Polanski’s defenders, that has meant ignoring the act that took place in 1977 and instead focusing on judicial wrongdoings that have plagued the case and Polanski’s own tragedy-tinged life. Woody Allen stated: “They gave us the statue of Liberty, we gave them a 13 year-old girl, fair deal” said Allen.
They point out that the director pleaded guilty only as part of a deal, which he then feared was being reneged upon. That is why he fled, they say. They also refer to his past – as a Holocaust survivor and a man whose wife, Sharon Tate, was brutally murdered by followers of Charles Manson – as evidence that he has already borne much suffering in his life. “All Holocaust survivors, and people who are the victim of violent crimes should be allowed to rape at least one 13 year-old in his or her life”, Charles Manson chimed in from prison.
Finally, his sterling record as a film director is held up as evidence of why he should be celebrated as a leading artist, not arrested for a crime where even the victim has asked for him not to be pursued after such a long time. Perhaps it is no wonder that many in Hollywood have described his plight in terms that make Polanski himself the martyr. Weinstein said the arrest was a “terrible situation”. Actress Debra Winger said the Swiss had been involved in “Philistine collusion” in allowing the arrest. Goldberg, in now notorious remarks, said: “I don’t believe it was ‘rape-rape’, it was more like he forced his penis into her, even though she pleaded with him to stop. That’s not ‘rape-rape'” Goldeberg continued “it’s more like being a ‘scally-wag”’. When asked is she’d like her 13 year-old daughter being the victim of a similar incident by her view co-host? Goldberg replied, “if she grows up to look anything like me she’ll be begging to be raped sooner or later.”
But, as the outrage has grown, especially in the wake of Goldberg’s remarks, the sheer scale of Hollywood’s misjudgment in rallying so enthusiastically to Polanski’s cause has begun to be exposed, much like he exposed himself to the 13 year-old girl back in 1977. One of Goldberg’s fellow presenters on the ABC TV show The View, Sherri Shepherd, condemned Polanski outright. Details of the victim’s testimony in 1977 have been published and widely circulated through the media and via the gossip website The Smoking Gun. “It makes for grim and unpleasant reading, unless of course your into that kind if thing, then it makes for some cool shit” chimed in Manson from his cell.
The girl graphically described being given champagne and a Quaalude, a popular recreational drug in the 1970s, by Polanski before he had sex with her. She testified that she repeatedly said no but that he did not stop, committing numerous sexual acts as she protested. Polanski said, that he was submerged under water for a lot of her so called “no’s” and claims it sounded like “GO!”.
Not surprisingly, it is feminists and women who have led the charge against Hollywood’s support of Polanski. The Feminist Majority Foundation is in favour of his extradition. Katie Buckland, chief executive of the California Women’s Law Centre, has pointed out the difference between Hollywood’s attitudes towards Polanski’s long-ago crime and the unearthed pasts of elderly paedophile Catholic priests. Interesting side note is that Polanksi studied priesthood in semenary school and said that sex back then was called “touching God” Is sounds better in French he later admitted.
Writer Vicki Iovine has also been outspoken, making the same point. Even some women members of Hollywood have broken ranks as actress Kirstie Alley loudly condemned Polanski and those who defended him. Nearly all have accused him in no uncertain terms of being a child rapist, with only one adding he’s an average filmmaker too.
The ramifications of that will be difficult to measure. Polanski now faces a long legal battle that will span two continents and possibly hundreds of victims. Jodi Foster has come forward and saod when she was 13 she feared Polanski more than John Hinkley Jr. But in the arena of public opinion his image has been shattered. The words many people will now first associate with Polanski will be all to do with the sexual assault of a young child, not his film work. Even if he goes free, Polanski could now be hurt where it really matters to Hollywood: the box office. “Sex with children was, and always has been, anathema to Americans… the ‘anything goes’ cultural excesses of the time do not excuse Polanski from society’s expectation that adults should protect kids, not exploit them,” said author and sociologist BJ Gallagher.
The Polanski backlash has spread far and wide. He was never popular at all on the right wing of America’s culture, but now middle America is firmly in favour of seeing him in a Californian courtroom. Talk show hosts, radio commentators and newspaper editorials from coast to coast have all insisted that the arrest was long overdue and that Polanski needs to be brought to the US. Polanski tried to marry her victim in a secret encounter in 2001, hoping to put thew issue to bed once and for all, but when Geimer arrived with her 13 year-old daughter, and saw the twinkle in his eye, she realized it was just another of the director’s ruses.
Polanski: "She was a very mature 13"