The subject has an age–worn quality about him, as if he has seen more than he lets on, though at his age he has already seen quite a bit. His eyes are creased around the edges, his lips held tight even as he speaks. A lilt of Polish and French tinges his voice; he says that he is “French in [his] heart,” though he speaks passionately about his childhood in Poland—still, he never raises his tone too much, never lets it waver. He is a composed man, a careful one, and clearly an artist.
The man in question is Roman Polanski. Polanski’s biography precedes him, followed by his impressive filmography. A victim of Hitler in Poland with Jewish parents, he lived in foster homes as a youth after his parents were taken in raids. His first feature–length film, Knife in the Water, was produced in 1962 at age 29; he was launched into fame in 1968 with Rosemary’s Baby. The murders of his wife and unborn child by the Manson Family the following year were far more gripping to the general public. Polanski’s tragic personal life clouded his films and he garnered an impressive amount of pity for it. This was, of course, until 1971, when he was arrested and charged for raping a 13–year–old girl, to which he pleaded not guilty originally, and then accepted a plea bargain for "unlawful sexual intercourse."
Polanski’s sexual abuse case is often undiscussed. Then 43, he was charged with rape by use of drugs and perversion, among three other charges, though under a plea bargain, he pleaded guilty only to unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. After 42 days of court-ordered psychiatric evaluation, Polanski’s attorneys believed that the judge for his case would send him to prison and order him to be deported. Polanski then purchased a plane ticket to England and traveled to his homeland, France, to avoid the sentencing. In September of 1979, he asserted to interviewer Martin Amis about the accusations and fallout that “Everyone wants to fuck young girls.”
Polanski, most surprisingly, is still a wanted man. On his Wikipedia page, pasted proudly beneath the details of his spouses and children, are his convictions (statutory rape), capture status (international fugitive), and the state in which he is wanted (California, the same location of his trial). He has been living out the past four decades in exile in Europe.
Yet, despite his status as an international fugitive, he is treated with the same respect as any other director. He has been producing films steadily since, most famously the Academy Award–winning The Pianist. Actors speak of him with the same ease as one might talk of anyone; on the set of Carnage in 2011, Kate Winslet described him as "one of the most extraordinary men [she'd] ever met." She went on to say, "The guy is 77 years old. He has an effervescent quality to him.” Ewan McGrego has said that "He's a legendary filmmaker; he's one of the best filmmakers there is." Some even defend him against any critique, such as Johnny Depp, who insisted in 2010 that “Roman is not a predator. He's 75 or 76 years old. He has got two beautiful kids, he has got a wife that he has been with for a long long time. He is not out on the street."
It is clear that the perception of Polanski is oddly positive. Newer audiences may not know about his sexual assault case and others may simply have forgotten about it for its lack of recent action. Indeed, Polanski has been living out the life of a normal director in Europe, garnering nominations and fame. Iconic actors do not refuse to work with him. The people do not scorn him or do not do so loud enough.
However, since the accusations of rape and sexual harassment against Harvey Weinstein have come to light, the Academy has taken action. In 2018—almost 40 years after Polanski's case became public—the Academy expelled both Polanski and Bill Cosby after the Weinstein stories broke.
Now, a year later, Polanski had decided to fight back, suing the Academy and insisting that they give him back his position.
In his lawsuit, he writes that the Academy has “committed a prejudicial abuse of discretion,” that “the Academy’s expulsion decision is not supported by the findings,” and that their “findings are not supported by the evidence," despite the fact that it was Polanski himself who pleaded guilty to the charges. Even though the Academy has been incredibly lenient—allowing him to keep his 2003 Oscar for The Pianist—Polanski wants to live in the same luxury as he had been able to since 1979, continuing to gain praise and further accolades.
All aspects of the situation are concerning. The fact that the Academy allowed Polanski to hold his position within their body for as long as they did is in itself shameful, and the expulsion is clearly only in response to the #MeToo movement. Samantha Geimer, the woman who accused him of sexual assault in 1979, said that the Academy’s expulsion was “an ugly and cruel action which serves only appearance.” Somewhat controversially, Geimer is of the opinion that Polanski should be allowed back into the country to continue his work in the film industry. Polanski, with very little effort, has many people on his side.
Yet why do we give this man a voice, both to speak out against the general opinion of him or to produce critically–acclaimed films? Polanski's next piece, J’accuse—about the Dreyfus Affair, in which a man is wrongfully accused of a crime—will likely stir up some buzz. The sheer fact that he is given a venue to speak and produce artwork despite being a fugitive convicted of rape indicates that the public’s critiques of men in power who abuse those beneath them is not enough. There must be systematic steps taken not simply to cast him out of the Academy, but to cast him out of conversations about film in general. He should no longer be on the lists of the best directors of all time, should no longer be hailed for his work, and should no longer be given a chance to participate in the film industry.
The Academy has remained firm in their decision to keep him cast out of their ranks. They replied that their techniques were “fair and reasonable” and their decision “appropriate.” However, the fact that Polanski has been allowed to work under them for as long as he had past his trial make his indignation logical: If he had gotten away with it for so long, there isn't much stopping him. Why has everyone been so lenient with a convicted rapist? We, as film watchers and members of the general public, need to condemn Polanski for what he is, rebuff those who defend him, and, most of all, ignore him and whatever his creative vision might be. People who abuse those beneath them deserve no place in the creative world and we, as the consumers, must not allow their work to be praised.