Roman Polanski may finally face charges

Back in March, we discussed part of a transcript from a 1978 Raiders of the Lost Ark story session in which George Lucas thought it would be “interesting” if Marion Ravenwood had been 12 years old at the time of her “affair” with Indiana Jones. It sparked debate, disgust and defense as commenters speculated about Lucas and his thinking process. Between the transcript and the fact that Marion was being written as a love interest who had a romantic past and future with Indy, it’s difficult not to infer that, as PocketNerd put it, Lucas “thought Indy could screw a little girl without really being a bad person.”

If he did think that (and I stress “if” because I certainly don’t presume to know his mind), he wasn’t alone.

In 1977, the year previous to this story session, Roman Polanski was arrested for drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl. Specifically, he was charged with “rape by use of drugs, perversion, sodomy, lewd and lascivious act upon a child under 14” but his lawyers got that knocked down to “unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor.” Don’t ask me what difference the state of California thought/thinks there is between sexual assault/rape and “unlawful sexual intercourse.” On my planet, it’s either rape, statutory rape, or it’s sex.

If Lucas was confused, no wonder. People think of rape as a form of sex – a bad form, but a form of it nonetheless. Really, sex and rape are two different things, in much the same way that going for a swim and being dumped in the river with concrete bricks tied to your feet are two very different things. But our language – particularly the language of the law and courtrooms where people’s rights get decided – continues to fail to reflect this. And a lot of people over the years have argued, in so many words, that Polanski screwed a little girl without really being a bad person.

Polanski fled the US before he could face charges. He’s been a fugitive ever since, sticking mostly to travel in countries that don’t like extraditing people to the US. Recently, his lawyers tried to get the 32-year-old charges dropped altogether. The L.A. Times reports that L.A. authorities nabbed Polanski in Switzerland this weekend when he made a public appearance at a film festival. Everyone is stunned that a rape fugitive can’t appear in public, publicly, with loads of publicity, without the people who charged him showing up to bring him to justice. The festival spokeswoman didn’t see it coming. Polanski himself was shocked – he’s been living and working as a free man all this time, what the hell? From the L.A. Times online article, bold emphasis mine:

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told France-Inter radio that he and Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski asked Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that Polanski be released on bail, calling his arrest  a “bit sinister.”

French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand was quoted in French media as saying, “In the same way that there is a generous America that we like, there is also a scary America that has just shown its face.”

Hey, I’m the first to admit the U.S. does scary shit that other nations have every right to be upset about. Arresting rapists is not a good example of this, though. More from the article:

Robert Harris, a British novelist who had worked with Polanski, said in a statement that he believed the arrest was “politically motivated.” “I am shocked that any man of 76, whether distinguished or not, should have been treated in such a fashion,” he said.

I’m shocked that any girl of 13, whether distinguished or not, should have been treated in such a fashion as Polanski treated his victim.

Since 1977, Polanski has settled a civil suit with his victim, Samantha Geimer, who forgave him publicly. An HBO documentary has suggested that the judge and a prosecutor mishandled the original proceedings, and Geimer has said she wants the case dropped – understandably. Now Polanski’s lawyers are claiming L.A. authorities never attempted to enforce the warrant in all this time, and L.A. authorities are claiming they did once or twice.

The bottom line is, what happened to Geimer was not prosecuted in a way that suggested it was really important to anyone but her. Because it wasn’t. Maybe if Polanski had raped a little boy, things would be different – oh, not because we care about little boys anymore than little girls, but because people would mistakenly conflate that crime with homosexuality. But because the gender and class dynamics of this particular rape happen to coincide with those our society considers ideal and correct for all humans (empowered male has sex with powerless female), we think there’s room to consider the possibility that Polanski isn’t really a bad person, he just mistakenly fed a thirteen-year-0ld girl champagne and quaaludes before accidentally taking her into his bedroom and forcing a variety of sex acts upon her while she said “no” a lot and pled for him to stop (which I’m sure he simply didn’t hear or something).

It’s really not the purview of the law to decide whether Polanski is a bad person or not. The law is not about judging people, it’s about judging their actions. Polanski harmed a young girl, willfully; he finagled his way out of being punished for it; and the authorities really haven’t demonstrated anything beyond self-interest in the whole affair. Now, if there is any justice, it sounds like it will come at the cost of Samantha Geimer’s peace of mind. But I doubt there will be any justice. There will be lots of media attention, and the L.A. District Attorney’s office will strut around, and Polanski’s lawyers will get their faces on cable news, and the upshot will be that everyone decides Polanski’s really not a bad person, and anyway, being forced to spent thirty-two years making a lavish living with the respect and admiration of his peers without being able to travel to the U.S. is punishment enough.

Comments

  1. Maria V. says

    I saw the reporting on this this morning, and was LIVID. He’s a child molester and a rapist, and it’s appalling to see people make him a goddamn HERO for his arrest.

  2. Anemone says

    Most of the comments I’m reading elsewhere want to see him do time. Reassuring. Though if the press reported antagonim, (other) people might be reacting against that, too.

    If he weren’t so immature, none of this mess would be happening because it would have all been dealt with a long time ago. I’ve seen it all before.

    Were any of his movies any good? I keep assuming I’d find them creepy.

  3. Charles RB says

    “Were any of his movies any good?”

    Yes, which appears to be why he gets a pass. The French government is obligated to make angry noises about this: they don’t extradite French citizens, the arrest was made without their knowledge or approval, they’re putting up a tough front to save face. Polanski’s fellow artists and civilians who protest? They don’t have to do that. But Chinatown was a good film, so we must defend him for being subjected to the law like everyone else.

  4. says

    Anemone, yes, that is reassuring (that people are wanting him to serve time).

    Polanski is considered an excellent director. He’s won a lot of Oscars and international awards, and continued making critically praised, commercially successful films all through these past 32 years. I have to admit, it bothers me that the industry didn’t blackball him for what he did, when people have been blackballed for everything from their private political affiliations to pissing off Hitchcock. Clearly, Polanski’s talent was rated as more important to society than the ordeal he put a young girl through.

    I’m also thinking, how could people not infer from his escaping justice that it’s okay to rape a little girl if you’re really rich or talented or otherwise somehow special?

    As for him getting a pass, I also wonder if the fact that he was married to Sharon Tate and she was pregnant with their first child when the “Manson Family” killed her and her guests also inclined people to give him a pass, as if you can front-load punishment before crime.

  5. sbg says

    French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand was quoted in French media as saying, “In the same way that there is a generous America that we like, there is also a scary America that has just shown its face.”

    Yes, it’s terrifying to think someone might still want some kind of justice served for what a grown man did to a child “after all this time.” Of all the things I list under “scary America”, this is not one of them.

  6. says

    I’ve seen some news coverage on this and I’m appalled. Every man only coming near a little girl he’s not supposed to come near to is instantly called a child molester, but in this case everyone is making up excuses: The victim forgave him. Come on, he’s an ARTIST. And he’s had such a hard life (they actually dared to play the Holocaust card here). I’m sorry, but none of these are reasons for raping a child.

  7. Nialla says

    I’ve been baffled by some of the reactions I’ve seen to this case. People are shocked that someone accused of raping a 13 year old girl is arrested “after all these years”? Those years have passed because he skipped bail and purposely tried to avoid going to countries with extradition treaties with the US.

    I have no sympathy over those trying to play his age card, since he apparently had no issue with the age of his victim. I guess since he’s an artist, we’re supposed to ignore those skeletons in his closet.

    I do wonder if the real issue is a “those mean Americans” thing. Our reputation amongst many Europeans is so poor, it’s become a kneejerk reaction for some.

  8. SunlessNick says

    As for him getting a pass, I also wonder if the fact that he was married to Sharon Tate and she was pregnant with their first child when the “Manson Family” killed her and her guests also inclined people to give him a pass, as if you can front-load punishment before crime.

    That very claim, together with family members being killed in the Holocaust is made here; the writer even says that the pressures of living as a fugitive are punishment enough.

  9. Charles RB says

    While he was living as a fugitive, I don’t think living in a first-world democracy with a high standard of living and no extradition treaty is that big a deal – especially when he could and did go to other countries without fear of being nabbed.

  10. says

    the writer even says that the pressures of living as a fugitive are punishment enough.

    Oh, some pressure. This was apparently not the first time he’s wandered freely around countries with extradition treaties with the US – that’s why he was so stunned that this time, the L.A. authorities showed up.

    Meanwhile, most of Earth’s inhabitants don’t have a hell of a lot of choice where we live, and not because we’ve committed an illegal and immoral crime, but simply because we must live in places where we can make a living.

    One other point: if we’re going to forgive Polanski raping someone because of his personal nightmares with the Holocaust and the murder of his wife, then we must also forgive Charles Manson for murdering Sharon Tate, because Charles Manson also had a seriously tragic childhood.

    Or, you know, we could have sympathy for the suffering individuals endure while still holding them accountable for their own willful acts. Is it really so difficult to do both?

  11. Pocket Nerd says

    I now feel even more pity for Samantha Geimer; besides dealing with the initial violation, then spending essentially her entire adult life trying to live this down, I suspect Polanski’s legal defense, now as then, will amount to “she was a little slut who was asking for it.” I really, really hope it doesn’t go that way, because by all appearances, the woman has the kindness of a saint.

    And apparently “living as a fugitive” is now a synonym for “free, wealthy, and worshipped as a god by one’s professional community.” If that’s life as a fugitive, where do I sign up?

    The real irony: Polanski had already pled down to a reduced charge (as Jennifer Kesler pointed out) and was likely to get no punishment more severe than a short term of inpatient psychiatric evaluation, then time served plus parole. That’s right: He pushed drugs and alcohol on a little girl, raped her, sodomized her, and pled guilty… and his punishment was to be a judicial wrist-slap. Of course, Polanski decided “psych evaluation plus parole” was too harsh a punishment, so he fled from justice. How on Earth can anybody see this man as the victim?

    To be completely fair, I’ve read claims that the district attorney planned to renege on the deal… but as far as I can tell those claims trace back to post facto rationalizing by Polanski or his attorney. I’m pretty sure the state isn’t allowed to break plea deals arbitrarily.

    (Also, yay, I’ve been quoted by the bloggers! I feel important and special now.)

  12. SunlessNick says

    To be completely fair, I’ve read claims that the district attorney planned to renege on the deal…

    I think it was the judge who wasn’t going to sign off on it (which is rare, but within their prerogative). And Polanski didn’t wait to find out what the actual sentence might be.

    Oh, some pressure.

    Somehow, not being able to collect his Oscar in person fails to move me to sympathy.

  13. Charles RB says

    BBC reports that the French government has dropped public support of Polanski, AND the Polish PM has asked ministers to show “restraint” when complaining about the arrest because the guy’s a rapist.

  14. says

    Thanks, Charles – I see Yahoo reporting that now, too.

    To be fair, I didn’t hear ANY French authorities make excuses for Polanski like the Hollywood nutjobs are doing now. Re-reading Mitterand’s comments (which have obviously been translated and may have lost something along the way, not to mention the possibility of the press neglecting context), I think perhaps they were only criticizing the MANNER in which we went about arresting Polanski, and perhaps didn’t even anticipate being interpreted as supporting Polanski. I don’t have a problem with them taking exception to how we did it – that’s political.

  15. Charles RB says

    Oh yeah, the French (and AFAIK Polish) authorities haven’t tried excusing the crime – it’s solely “oi, he’s one of our guys” political argy-bargy for them. To some extent they have to make a noise.

    Hollywood, on the other hand, can quite happily cut him loose, same as non-US arts people. French film-maker Luc Besson has gone on record as not lending his support: “I have a lot of affection for him, he is a man that I like very much … but nobody should be above the law.” They don’t have to back him.

    See also Chris Brown. I would’ve loved to see at least one male actor/singer/whatever say “oh yeah, he’s a tosser”.

  16. kris clayton says

    (Sigh…) Okay. Let’s go over it again:

    He raped a child.
    He raped a child.
    He raped a child.
    He raped a child-

    K.

  17. Gordon says

    Nialla – I’ve come across some committed lefties online who resent the score this story represents for the right-wing Hollywood-hating elements of the media, so they refuse to take on board the gravity of the crime. I would personally destroy every studio and office of FOX with radioactive incendiary bombs but I’m not going to belittle Polanski’s crime just to spoil their victory. I would fight the correct battle by not passively allowing FOX and their ilk to claim that Polanski’s crime proves that ‘liberals are rapists and friends of rapists’.

    “Or, you know, we could have sympathy for the suffering individuals endure while still holding them accountable for their own willful acts. Is it really so difficult to do both?”: Exactly! Thank you!

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