Ac­claimed direc­tors don’t go to jail? Polan­ski case ig­nites cul­tural de­bate

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY JEN­NIFER HARPER

The crime is more than three decades old, but the bat­tle has just be­gun. The rekin­dled le­gal case of film di­rec­tor Ro­man Polan­ski has set off a noisy cul­ture war, pit­ting Hol­ly­wood val­ues against tra­di­tional Amer­i­can de­cency, fem­i­nists, in­ter­na­tional of­fi­cials and the prover­bial long arm of law.

“He’s a crim­i­nal. He is a con­victed crim­i­nal pe­dophile,” said Terry O’Neill, pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Women.

“I’m not in the mid­dle here. How dare Ro­man Polan­ski think he could get away with this? I be­lieve he has banked on men — pow­er­ful de­ci­sion mak­ers — who are more in­tent on pro­tect­ing rapists than chil­dren. This is the world Polan­ski is ex­ploit­ing. It’s ou­tra­geous.”

The con­tro­versy has even reached the White House.

Asked by a re­porter Sept. 30 whether Pres­i­dent Obama was con­sid­er­ing a par­don for the long­time fugi­tive, press sec­re­tary Robert Gibbs said, “I don’t know of any pend­ing par­don re­quest.”

He quickly added, “The pres­i­dent be­lieves pe­dophiles should be pros­e­cuted.”

But many in the in­ter­na­tional creative com­mu­nity have raced to de­fend one of their own.

An army of prom­i­nent film artists, Euro­pean apol­o­gists and lib­eral heavy­weights has mus­tered to de­fend the Os­car-winning film­maker, in­dicted in 1977 in the drug­ging and rape of a 13year-old girl and fi­nally ar­rested in Switzer­land on Sept. 26. Now 76 and a French ci­ti­zen, Polan­ski sits in a Swiss jail await­ing ex­tra­di­tion to the U.S. as sym­pa­thiz­ers cast him in the role of mar­tyr.

“We have learned the as­ton­ish­ing news of Ro­man Polan­ski’s ar­rest by the Swiss po­lice on Septem­ber 26th, upon ar­rival in Zurich, while on his way to a film fes­ti­val where he was due to re­ceive an award for his ca­reer in film­mak­ing,” stated a pub­lic pe­ti­tion signed by Woody Allen, Martin Scors­ese, David Lynch, John Lan­dis, De­bra Winger and 140 other artis­tic lu­mi­nar­ies.

“The ar­rest of Ro­man Polan­ski in a neu­tral coun­try, where he as­sumed he could travel without hin­drance, [. . . ] opens the way for ac­tions of which no one can know the ef­fects,” the pe­ti­tion said.

Out­spo­ken celebri­ties have been caught up in their own skir­mishes as the Polan­ski case has es­ca­lated. Co­me­dian and ac­tress Whoopi Gold­berg — who re­marked on ABC’s “The View” that the in­ci­dent was not “ ‘rape’ rape” — now has her own crit­ics.

“Just for the record, rape is rape. This is one Hol­ly­wood star who does not cel­e­brate or de­fend Ro­man Polan­ski. His art did not rape her,” coun­tered ac­tress Kirstie Al­ley in a Twit­ter mes­sage to her fans.

A sec­ond pro-Polan­ski pe­ti­tion — this one signed by nov­el­ist Sal­man Rushdie and di­rec­tor Mike Ni­chols, among many oth­ers — de­mands: “We ask the Swiss courts to free Polan­ski im­me­di­ately and not to turn this in­ge­nious film­maker into a mar­tyr of a politico-le­gal im­broglio that is un­wor­thy of two democ­ra­cies like Switzer­land and the United States.”

“We should have been cel­e­brat­ing the ar­rest of Osama bin Laden and not the ar­rest of Polan­ski,” ac­tor Peter Fonda said. “He is not re­spon­si­ble for killing any­one.”

Like many of his fel­low thes­pian sup­port­ers, Mr. Fonda noted that Polan­ski’s young vic­tim, Sa­man­tha Geimer, — now 43 and

The French gov­ern­ment, which ini­tially ex­pressed out­rage over the ar­rest, has since adopted a more neu­tral line.

“Ro­man Polan­ski is nei­ther above nor be­neath the law,” gov­ern­ment spokesman Luc Cha­tel said at a news con­fer­ence on Sept. 30.

“We have a ju­di­cial pro­ce­dure un­der way, for a se­ri­ous af­fair,

“He’s a crim­i­nal. He is a con­victed crim­i­nal pe­dophile,” said Terry O’Neill, pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Women. “I’m not in the mid­dle here. How dare Ro­man Polan­ski think he could get away with this? I be­lieve he has banked on men — pow­er­ful de­ci­sion mak­ers — who are more in­tent on pro­tect­ing rapists than chil­dren. This is the world Polan­ski is ex­ploit­ing. It’s ou­tra­geous.”

a mother of three — has asked that the case be dis­missed and even at­tended the re­cent pre­miere of a sym­pa­thetic doc­u­men­tary about Polan­ski, pos­ing in a black for­mal gown for pho­tog­ra­phers on the red-car­peted walk­way. Many of the Hol­ly­wood set also point out that Polan­ski is the “dot­ing fa­ther” of two mi­nor chil­dren. the rape of a mi­nor, on which the Amer­i­can and Swiss le­gal sys­tems are do­ing their job. One can un­der­stand the emo­tion that this be­lated ar­rest, more than 30 years af­ter the in­ci­dent, and the method of the ar­rest, have caused,” Mr. Cha­tel said.

Af­ter the 1977 crime, Polan­ski was charged with giv­ing a con­trolled sub­stance to a mi­nor, com­mit­ting a lewd or las­civ­i­ous act upon a child un­der 14, un­law­ful sex­ual in­ter­course, rape, per­ver­sion and sodomy. He pleaded guilty to one count of un­law­ful sex­ual in­ter­course and spent 42 days in jail.

Re­port­edly fear­ing that the Cal­i­for­nia judge would not honor a plea-bar­gain deal he had struck with pros­e­cu­tors over the length of his jail term, Polan­ski jumped bail, fled the coun­try and set­tled in Europe be­fore he could be sen­tenced. The case has re­mained in ju­di­cial limbo ever since.

A grow­ing num­ber of crit­ics do not ap­pear ready to for­give Polan­ski.

Carol Jenk­ins, pres­i­dent of the Women’s Me­dia Cen­ter, an ac­tivist group orig­i­nally founded by Glo­ria Steinem and Jane Fonda, called on the me­dia “to fo­cus their cov­er­age of Ro­man Polan­ski’s re­cent ar­rest where it be­longs: on the crime he com­mit­ted, the rape of a child.”

“Too of­ten, the me­dia is com­plicit in mis­rep­re­sent­ing or si­lenc­ing the vic­tims of sex­ual as­sault,” she said.

“The rape of a child is at the heart of the case,” Ms. Jenk­ins added. “That is not dis­puted, and should not be rep­re­sented as sub­jec­tive.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS GETTY IM­AGES

Film Di­rec­tor Ro­man Polan­ski, and his at­tor­ney Dou­glas Dal­ton in court in 1977 (left) and Polan­ski in Cannes, France in 2008 (right).

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