If Roman Polanski hadn't made a bunch of excellent movies and won an Oscar, would we be up in arms about a fugitive being brought to justice after three decades on the run? No, he'd be on America's Most Wanted.
Ronda Kaysen: If I have to hear one more person bemoan the justice system because Roman Polanski finally got arrested for pleading guilty to child rape and skipping town before sentencing, I'll scream.
So what if the guy makes really good movies? He raped a 13-year-old girl. It doesn't matter that the victim has come forward and said she no longer wants to see him prosecuted because she's tired of the media circus. She did not say, mind you, that she thinks he's innocent. She would just like to stop hearing about the time a famous director drugged, raped, and sodomized her 31 years ago.
In an op-ed in today's New York Times, the writer Robert Harris feels "desperately sorry" for Polanski. He pronounces the victim "the one person who comes out of this affair with her dignity enhanced" because, presumably, she wants his buddy to get off the hook.
Harris laments the terrible misfortune of his friend who has dined with French presidents and owned homes in Switzerland (things, I guess, that make it okay to rape a child). He's outraged at people who want to discuss the details of Polanski's crime, for which he has yet to serve time. "The almost pornographic relish with which his critics are retelling the lurid details of the assault (strange behavior, one might think, for those who profess concern for the victim) makes it hard to consider the case rationally."
Wait a minute here. Not only are we supposed to shrug our shoulders and let Polanski walk away from a guilty plea, but we aren't supposed to discuss the merits of his conviction, either? I don't care that Harris shared family vacations with Polanski or that their daughters are BFFs. It doesn't matter that Polanski won an Oscar or traveled all over the world and avoided extradition. He pled guilty to child rape. Anyone with less means and connections would have gone to jail a long time ago for that.
It's not just Harris who's horrified that a guy who pled guilty to raping a kid might one day go to jail. "This is for me a shock. I am ashamed to be Swiss, that the Swiss [are] doing such a thing to a brilliant fantastic genius, that millions and millions of people love his work," the Swiss filmmaker Otto Weisser said. "He's a brilliant guy, and he made a little mistake 32 years ago. What a shame for Switzerland."
I guess only stupid people who plead guilty to raping kids should go to jail. Brilliant ones should pick up their lifetime achievement awards in Switzerland.
The outrage that a government would seek to extradite a child rapist isn't reserved for the film industry. It's not just Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Pedro Almodóvar, and Wim Wenders who are furiously writing letters on Polanski's behalf. Jack Lang, a former French culture minister, called it "judicial lynching." And his successor, Frédéric Mitterrand, called the news "absolutely horrifying."
Let's all stop and take a deep breath here. According to grand jury testimony, Roman Polanski doped a 13-year-old child with champagne and quaaludes and then forced her to have oral, vaginal, and anal sex with him, even as she repeatedly said no. That's rape, am I right? And he pled guilty. But when it became clear that he might have to do a little time for raping a kid, he skipped town. If he hadn't made a bunch of excellent movies and won an Oscar, would we be up in arms about a fugitive being brought to justice after three decades on the run? No, he'd be on America's Most Wanted.
Kate Harding totally gets it. "Roman Polanski raped a child. And rushing past that point to focus on the reasons why we should forgive him, pity him, respect him, admire him, support him, whatever, is absolutely twisted," she wrote on Salon's Broadsheet yesterday.
What I take from all this international outrage is that the only rapists that Hollywood and French culture ministers care about putting away are the ones who aren't rich, internationally famous celebrities who make really good movies. If he made bad movies, would the world care so much?
No one can deny that Polanski has had a difficult life, and terrible, horrible things have befallen him -- the murder of his second wife, Sharon Tate, when she was eight months pregnant, by the Manson Family; the murder of his mother at Auschwitz; his survival in the Warsaw Ghetto. But does all that make it okay for the guy to drug and rape a little girl? No.
Justice is supposed to be blind. She's supposed to look beyond someone's social status and the number of homes he owns and how many film festivals he has been to and do what is just. By letting Polanski off the hook, we're saying that it's okay to rape a child and flee the country to avoid prison time if you're famous, well-connected, and make great movies.
|Ronda Kaysen is a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, BusinessWeek.com, Architectural Record, Huffington Post, New York Observer and AM New York. She lives in Brooklyn with her family.|