Full disclosure: I have NOT seen the HBO documentary about Polanski. I write this entry with the intent to express my before and after points of view. Be advised: the two may not differ…
I acknowledge that the Polanski case was problematic. According to various news reports, he was entrapped by a media-hungry judge who renegged on his jail-time free plea deal and went to the other extreme by sentencing him to decades behind bars. I acknowledge that Polanski has an extraordinarily traumatic life, beginning with surviving the Nazi Holocaust, where he lost his mother–and continuing with the murder of his pregnant wife Sharon Tate at the hands of supporters of Charles Manson. I further acknowledge that Polanski is an immensely talented fillmmaker with work ranging from the utterly frightening Rosemary’s Baby to the utterly heartbreaking Oscar winner The Pianist.
Listen. We know that the American Justice System rarely shows up as just. It has been infuriating and depressing for me to watch, for example, as white male police officers go free after murdering or abusing black civilians, from Rodney King to Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell. This happens while people of color are thrown in jail at greater proportion and for harsher sentences than their white criminal counterparts. I can even see why Polanski would feel compelled to run from the law for 31 years. He took matters into his own hands, doing what he believed he had to do. He used his judgment.
But Polanski also used his judgment the day he drugged Samantha Gailey (now Samantha Geimer), the thirteen year-old girl he also pled guilty to having sex with. Here come the cop-outs: it was Hollywood during the ’70s. Poppin’ queludes was regular behavior. So was having wild, casual sex. Who wouldn’t want to be deemed a star by a hot European director? Hold up: everybody was not drugging minors into having sex with them, because in the United States, it’s against the law. And at last look, Hollywood was and still is in the United States.
So here’s my thesis: the reason Polanski ran for 31 years was not because the system turned on him; and not because the woman he violated ultimately grew to forgive him as an adult. I think that Karma came for him, caught up to him, and showed up in the form of an arrest during a film festival created to honor his work. Karma can be ironic. I find it ironic that this all went down in a country that’s usually so neutral about stuff. Clearly his past wasn’t so offensive that the Swiss refused to host the event; they were happy he was coming–and they have stood firm in keeping him in their custody.
Bottom line: Roman Polanski pled guilty to raping a minor. In my view, Polanski never satisfactorily atoned for or paid for his crime. The circumstances around the case have no bearing on the depth of wrong of the crime itself. There are few that would argue 42 days of psych evaluation compensates for using drugs to commit forcible rape of a 13 year-old girl. Now, if he didn’t actually rape her, but just said he did for the plea deal, then he’s an innocent man and justice was miscarried. But this isn’t The Fugitive starring Harrison Ford. This isn’t a movie. This is Roman Polanski’s problem. And now, he’s being made to face not just the initial crime of rape, but the crime of being a fugitive from justice for half a lifetime.
Now for more troubling stuff. Hollywood’s powerful cannot believe one of their own has been confronted with an arrest for something that even the victim seems to have ‘gotten over’ so to speak. But that’s because they live in a bubble where very often, its elite members get away with doing weird, deviant, and sometimes even criminal things. But America is the quintessential cowboy, and it really sticks in a cowboy’s craw when a criminal runs. That’s a chase not easily given up on. So far, only Hollywood types have signed this petition. Maybe because the Polanski Problem only rings unfair to Hollywood. Maybe their rush to defend Polanski is a function of the Old Boys Club circling ranks; Hollywood’s got a miserable track record with women from roles on screen to roles behind the scenes. Maybe it’s none of those reasons and it comes down to not wanting to face some Karma of their own, because some Hollywood closets are full to bursting with bones they can’t risk the rest of the world knowing about.
I just find it very disturbing. You didn’t see the NFL rallying to defend Michael Vick over dog murder, or over Plaxico shooting himself. The rap world didn’t cry foul when Grammy(r) winner T.I. got arrested for gun charges. These guys committed crimes and are also very talented at what they do. Karma caught up to them. They didn’t run. They faced their consequences.
I’m gonna watch the Polanski documentary to see if it challenges or shifts my perception. But I’m also going to keep in mind that like all media, it’s designed to communicate the perspective of its creators and provoke thought based on what’s presented. In ‘The Polanski Problem Part II’ I will surely blog whatever thoughts are provoked.
My parting questions: have you seen the film? Did it change how you feel about the case or Polanski’s actions? Is Hollywood trippin’ defending Polanski? Would their collective power might be better served to improve the lot of workers or lobby for legislation against piracy?