In the era of “#MeToo,” the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is clearing itself out. After Harvey Weinstein, the academy has also expelled Bill Cosby and Roman Polanski in the name of newly established ethical rules.
The Academy fears public opinion. At the end of the 1920s, when there was a series of murders in Los Angeles, when promiscuity spread through Tinseltown and beautiful women were bathing half-naked in the foam, the puritanical public started to boycott Hollywood. And then the strict and absurd Hays Code was created, a code which applied to American cinematography until the late ‘50s, maybe even the ‘60s.
At the moment, the situation is equally serious. Women have put an end to the silence, have protested against being used, mistreated and humiliated, but have also protested against unequal salaries and rights. They have stood up for their own dignity.
The facts are not in question. In 1977, at the house of his friend, Jack Nicholson, Roman Polanski had sex with a 13-year-old girl, which is a criminal act. And whatever one can say about the promiscuity of those times or the circumstances of that incident, it was morally inexcusable. In 1978, after a psychiatric examination ordered by the judge, the director fled the U.S., went to France, and has not crossed back into America since. Polanski evaded his responsibility. But was it the only thing he escaped from?
In the movie “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” Marina Zenovich approached nearly 100 people who were witnesses in the case. She proved that Judge Laurence Rittenband improperly spoke with prosecutors, and said he would “mess up the motherf-----” out loud.*
The press fueled the scandalous atmosphere as it sold really well, particularly because a puritanical America did not like Polanski. The director was facing up to 50 years in prison, so he fled to escape not only the justice system, but also the media and the hate. Today the main characters in the incident are different people. Samantha Geimer is 53 years old and is a married mother of two. A couple of years ago, she published a book called “The Girl: A Life in the Shadow of Roman Polanski,” which she claimed she wrote to finally put an end to this case. She and Polanski’s lawyers had resolved the case long before the book, with the director Polanski paying Samantha a considerable settlement. Geimer dropped the charges, and on a television talk show, she claimed that she had forgiven Polanski. She added that he had a mistake but had redeemed himself. Now, after the academy announcement, she is also defending him.
Polanski has been married to French actress Emmanuelle Seigner for 30 years and is the father of two. He paid for the Geimer case by incurring an indelible stain on his reputation. But he also paid with his career. The creator of “Knife in the Water,” “Tess” and “The Pianist,” Polanski is a significant artist, winner of an Oscar and the Palme d’Or from Cannes, but who knows where he would have been if he had been able to work in America for the last 40 years? With his temperament and professionalism, he suited Hollywood like no one else.
And what about the decision of the academy, made so quickly and contrary to the rules that Polanski was not given the usual 10 days to present a defense? It is hard to comment on that. But the problem lies deeper. It is easy to expel an 84-year-old artist who lives permanently in Paris. It’s harder for the academy to touch its own celebrities, like Kevin Spacey, director James Toback, who was accused of harassing dozens of women, or recent Oscar winner and great actor Casey Affleck. Or those on a list published by The New York Times.
It’s also harder for the academy to look at itself critically and examine the longstanding practice of sweeping sexual harassment under the rug in the film industry, and maybe even silently allowing it. It’s harder to explain why the actresses earn several times less than men with the same experience. Or why, in the 90-year-old history of the Oscars, only one woman has won for directing. Maybe “clearing out” the movie industry should start with searching for the answers to these questions.
*Editor’s note: Although this quote is accurately translated, it could not be independently verified.
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