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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

why is Hollywood defending a rapist?

Roman Polanski, rapist, arrested. There’s nothing else to talk about this week in The Week in Women, my regular column over at the Alliance of Women Film Journalists. Enjoy… and maybe get enraged.



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  • Chuck

    Wow, I’m impressed. Well researched, assembled and supported. You are right on.

    I can’t believe that the defenders of RP can’t see how back-asswards they are. But then they are just as wrong on so many other issues that maybe it’s too much too expect sanity from them on this issue.

    I wonder if RP would support releasing Chas Manson citing some of the same rhetoric? I mean really, Chas has suffered enough, don’t ya think? I am sure someone in Hollywood would support his release and would probably help Chas get his own talk show.

    How would Whoopi feel if it were her or her daughter not rape raped.

    Great article Maryann, the Doctor would be be proud.

  • Judy

    Thanks for writing this – you are an eloquent voice in the wilderness!

  • Muzz

    Yeah, what people are saying about this runs the gamut from weird apologism to creepy apologism. It’s still true that the circumstances are quite unusual and a fair trial at this point is, I believe, legally and socially impossible. And that ain’t right either.

  • I’m so glad you wrote this.

    But I would have been more glad if it had not been necessary for you to have to write this.

    The one thing I keep stumbling upon in any record of history or current events is the inevitable tendency for some people to excuse anything if it’s done by the right people.

    Yes, there have been a lot of right-wingers who have been exploiting this case for their own reasons.

    But the apologists for Polanski aren’t exactly defending a very moral position and it would be nice if more of them acknowledged it.

    And when you’re the son of a man who grew up in the Detroit slums, you get kind of tired of hearing the rich and famous use the old “it’s okay if so-and-so did so and so because so-and-so had such a hard life” argument.

    A lot of people who have had hard lives don’t go on to break the law.

    But then, as I said above, some people will justify anything if it’s done by the right people.

  • MaryAnn

    It’s still true that the circumstances are quite unusual and a fair trial at this point is, I believe, legally and socially impossible.

    A trial is not necessary. He pled guilty. There was never going to be a trial. He was just going to go to prison. And he jumped bail at that point. If he hadn’t, he’d certainly be out of prison by now, instead of having had to spend the last 30-plus years being “punished.”

  • Muzz

    The story goes that he made his plea as part of a deal including a particular sentence. When that wes reneged upon he fled.
    If that’s true (big condition. and probably even more complex than that in the end) just bringing him back and letting the guilty plea ride seems unfair, in and of itself.
    Much of whether it matters a great deal to me depends on the sentence, though. He could quite easily wear some time and take his chances on appeal like everyone else if there’s a problem. But I suspect a small sentence isn’t what most people (outside Hollywood I guess) are after.

  • Grinebiter

    FWIW, he would not have been out of prison by now, because, from what I am given to understand, the judge who reneged on the plea-bargain sentence intended to give him 50 years instead. So he would still be there, barring challenges.

    Moreover, it is not accurate to say “he was just going to go to prison”, other than a short term of psychiatric observation. It is, of course, perfectly possible to say that this sentence was ridiculously lenient and that he should have been given a prison sentence of N years in the first place. But should != was.

    And I think it is also possible to raise one’s eyebrows at the way the judge careered from ridiculously lenient to 50 years, apparently in a moment of passion, not to mention the whole story with the prosecutor’s misconduct (either talking to the judge ex parte, or lying about having done so, pick one) without taking either the line that great artists should not be judged by the standards of others, yadda yadda, or the line that it wasn’t really rape, yadda yadda. People tend to binary alternatives, but my sentiment is that that (a) Polanski was an asshole and that (b) that California law was an ass.

    Since AFAIK no legally valid sentence was actually handed down, it is a puzzlement what should be done with him. How about what happens to many other people, shot while resisting arrest? Just kidding. Or maybe I’m not……

  • JoshB

    The story goes that he made his plea as part of a deal including a particular sentence. When that wes reneged upon he fled.

    Who cares why he made his plea?

    I mean, if people were arguing that he was actually innocent and the guilty plea was more of a nolo contendere then the judge’s actions would be horrifically unfair, but that’s not what his apologists are saying.

    Everyone basically acknowledges that he did it. He pled guilty because he was in fact guilty. All of this other stuff regarding his plea bargain and prosecutorial misconduct is so much irrelevant clutter.

    Just picture some random pervert talking to Chris Hansen and ask yourself this: “A dude drugs and then inserts his penis into a thirteen year old girl against her will. What should happen to him?”

    If you said, “He pleads guilty and is sentenced to time already served” then piss off. Your opinion is worthless.

  • tomservo

    Some things make you so angry you want to punch the wall. This is one of those. There are some who argue, on respectable sites, that it’s actually no big deal that a middle-aged man had sex w/ a 13 yr old girl. “She looked mature,” “she knew what she was doing,” even, “her and her mother were looking for fame and fortune.” Christ! I hate to sound like some kind of family-values right winger, but were the hell are people’s morals?

  • Grinebiter

    I think, Tom, that the reason is this binary thinking again. Suppose for the sake of argument, that indeed “she and her mother were looking for fame and fortune”. That would mean that she was a little fool and that her mom belongs in jail too, but this is in no way exclusive of Polanski’s belonging in jail. The three propositions can all be true at once, no?

  • Anne-Kari

    That’s it in a nutshell. It doesn’t matter what the mother was thinking, or what Polanski supposedly believed about the girl. The bottom line is that a 13 yr old girl was forcibly raped. And according to the record, she said “no” repeatedly, so we are not event talking about a statutory rape.

    Also, according to the record, Polanski admitted that he knew she was 13, and that he drugged her. He’s a rapist and a pedophile.

  • Muzz

    Who cares why he made his plea?

    You should for one, and everyone else besides.
    Everyone gets due process. Everyone. Judges and DAs can’t go around making deals to get guilty pleas and then changing their minds on a whim. If you don’t like the fact that a deal was made at all, you have to go back all those years and talk to them.

  • Kenny

    The man is guilty of statutory rape. I was really confused by Terry Gilliam’s outspoken support for him. He accused the prosecutors of being “small men” because they wanted to put him away..

    What the fuck? Seriously,.. our society functions, in part, because of the promise of justice. If we found a Nazi war criminal still alive and in hiding, we’d still expect him to be punished.. so why not a rapist?

  • JoshB

    Judges and DAs can’t go around making deals to get guilty pleas and then changing their minds on a whim

    Actually, yes they can. There is no law whatsoever that says that a judge has to abide by a plea bargain. You are, very simply, wrong.

    He had legal counsel, the opportunity to plead his case, and a neutral judge. There’s your due process. He plead guilty. At that point it’s up to the judge, not the DA, to decide sentencing. If you don’t like that fact then I suggest you write to the appropriate legislators.

  • Muzz

    You going to tell me that the deal had nothing whatsoever to do with his plea? And the judge reneging is, you know, fair? (reneg might not be the word for it, for all I know. There’s might be some implicit understanding going on).
    I’d much prefer it if we had a nicer case of less turpitude to publicly discuss how screwy plea bargaining can be in the first place (there’s plenty of them, after all), but here we are.

  • SaintAndy

    F*ck the deal and all this irrelevant bullshit. I read the court transcripts of both his and the girl’s testimony, and it’s obvious Polanski took naked photos of a 13 year old girl, gave her alcohol WITH drugs and raped her, AND switched to anal sex when he heard she wasn’t on the pill (where there actually that many 13 year old girls on the pill in the 70s??).

    All that bitching about how he’s talented, a Holocaust survivor, a victim of crime himself (because of the whole Manson story) is utterly irrelevant to what he did.

    All the other bitching about how the mother was partially to blame, or how the girl was sexually experienced (she admitted to having had intercourse twice before the Polanski incident) or how everybody was doing things like that in the 70s (i.e. unprotected sex with everything remotely attractive, regardless of gender or age) is also bullshit.

    In that house there were two people, a 13 year old girl and a 44 year old man. The only person responsible for whatever crime took place is the ADULT…that is Polanski.

    The guy has to serve some sort of sentence…I don’t care if it’s just 2-3 years in a minimum security prison..but he can’t just rape a minor, and live happily in Europe for 30+ years, make movies and get awards, money and fame for them.

    And I don’t know what the f*ck is wrong with people who keep making excuses for him, because he’s talented and he suffered enough. He didn’t suffer anything, on the contrary, he probably carried on with young girls (he says during one of the interviews from “Wanted and desired” that he likes young women…but then so do most men…the asshole has absolutely no remorse and no feeling of guilt or even having done something terrible).

    And I would gladly exchange all his films for the peace of mind of that woman…and to wipe all the torment and degradation she must have experienced for a long time.

  • Grinebiter

    Josh, if you’re right and the bargain doesn’t have the force of law, welshing on the deal may have (have had?) an impact on the willingness of criminals to make plea bargains. This has implications for the efficiency of the legal system. It’s really not a good thing to do. I’m with Muzz on that one, not that either of us believe that it’s a rape defence.

    Before I started commenting here, I listened to a friend who was excusing him along the entrapment lines. Then I listened to another one who quoted Polanski, the same interview SaintAndy refers to, and I thought, “WTF?” If “young girls” means 13-year-olds, and “we” means all men, then no, M. le Salaud, we don’t want to fuck them.

    The second friend also told me about the anal aspect. In my book, even if we’re talking two adults and even if the sex is initiated voluntarily, you don’t take consent to cover anal. That needs a second consent, as do bondage games and whatnot. If some woman took me willingly to bed, for example, and then without permission shoved a dildo up my ass, I would be upset and angry, and I’m speaking as an adult male.

  • JoshB

    even if we’re talking two adults and even if the sex is initiated voluntarily, you don’t take consent to cover anal. That needs a second consent

    I just want to clarify something, because from your phrasing I’m not sure if you realize this. The girl did NOT give her consent, to any of the sex acts. She took her clothes off at his request for the photos, but that’s where anything even vaguely resembling consent stops. At every step of the way, every act he performed, she said no. She kept asking to go home, and he kept going further. SHE SAID NO.

    Josh, if you’re right and the bargain doesn’t have the force of law, welshing on the deal may have (have had?) an impact on the willingness of criminals to make plea bargains.

    I am right, correct though you may be about its effect on the efficiency of the legal system.

    And more to the point, Polanski’s lawyers (and we can assume he had some better than average ones) would have told him that the plea bargain was not a guarantee. When he made the decision to plead guilty he knew there was a possibility that the judge would reneg. He made an informed decision and took that risk.

    Muzz, you have this bass-ackwards notion of what a plea bargain really is. No one pleads guilty unless they’re convinced that they can’t win in a trial. If he wanted to avoid losing in a trial while still maintaining his innocence then he had options: the Alford plea and nolo contendere. He did neither.

    Plea bargaining only exists as a means to save the government money. When you try to hold up the plea bargain as this sacred, inviolable thing (and just to remind you, BY LAW IT ISN’T) what you’re actually saying is that we as a society have a greater interest in saving a few tax dollars than in seeing a child rapist brought to proper justice.

    You are wrong on the moral argument, and on the technical legal argument. The letter of the law and the spirit of the law. Anything else?

  • bitchen frizzy

    Josh, there’s a lot wrong with your “technical legal argument,” not the least of which is your reductio ad adsurdem on the purpose of plea bargaining. You’re letting emotion get the better of your logic.

    –“No one pleads guilty unless they’re convinced that they can’t win in a trial. If he wanted to avoid losing in a trial while still maintaining his innocence then he had options: the Alford plea and nolo contendere.”

    Not entirely true. People make plea bargains in exchange for a reduced sentence. That’s why it’s called a plea-BARGAIN. Lawyers routinely advise clients to accept the bargain against the risk of a full sentence, even if the trial outcome is not certain. If he had simply entered a nolo contendere plea, then he’d have faced the full sentence.

    You can’t ignore the true purpose and motives of a plea bargain and sustain a credible “technical legal argument.”

  • bitchen frizzy

    Also, to be legally technical, what she verbalized is irrelevant. A child is legally incapable of giving consent. She did not consent. No matter what she said or didn’t say, no matter how willing or cooperative she was or wasn’t, she did not consent. Polanski’s actions cannot be excused on these grounds.

  • Gee

    This article in The Independent includes a Q & A extract from the girl’s testimony, if you don’t want to seek out a full version. It’s just under the ‘realted articles’ list at little down from the top of the page.

    (It’s dated 29 September 2009, “Dominic Lawson: Let’s not forget what Polanski did.” if the link doesn’t work properly.)

    http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/dominic-lawson/dominic-lawson-lets-not-forget-what-polanski-did-1794717.html

  • Grinebiter

    I just want to clarify something, because from your phrasing I’m not sure if you realize this. The girl did NOT give her consent, to any of the sex acts.

    Yes, of course I realise this. I was saying that it was a kind of double rape, or triple if you like. Quadruple, perhaps: basic consent + age + drugs + anal. I would have thought that the italicised “even if” made it plain that it was a sort of counterfactual a fortiori argument.

    Not least for that reason I would second Bitchen Frizzy; please reduce the temperature. Not only are Muzz and I not Roman Polanski in person, we are not even defending him, just commenting on the flawed process that makes what to do with him even a question (if he’d escaped through a window after being given 20 years, after all, it would be a non-issue, you bring him back to finish it).

    My understanding of a plea bargain is that it’s a minimax strategy. If you’re a maximin player, you go for the full trial. Bitchen, you concur?

  • Grinebiter

    Also, to be legally technical, what she verbalized is irrelevant. A child is legally incapable of giving consent.

    Absolutely, that’s why it’s called statutory rape. But I don’t see whom you’re critiquing here — who here has invoked what she verbalised?

  • JoshB

    People make plea bargains in exchange for a reduced sentence.

    People make plea bargains in exchange for the possibility of a reduced sentence. You are letting your emotions get the better of you because you think it’s unfair perhaps that plea bargains are not binding. That is irrelevant. The technical fact remains, they are not binding, and the defendant knows it when they agree. There’s no emotion in that evaluation. It is just a fact.

    If I have an emotional reaction (and I do) it’s that 45 days time served is a travesty when we’re talking about rape of any kind, much less a child.

    As for the “true purpose and motives” of this plea bargain, I’ll say again: If Roman Polanski was claiming innocence, even in spite of the guilty plea, I would be willing to listen to all of this nonsense about the reneging of the bargain. That’s how unemotional I can be. I would cut out all my rage about child rape and listen to what the man had to say. BUT THAT IS NOT WHAT’S HAPPENING. No one, not even Polanski himself, is claiming that he didn’t do it! We can assume, with no disputation from the man himself, that he is guilty. So given that fact (here returns my emotion) WHO THE FUCK CARES WHY HE MADE HIS PLEA BARGAIN? ESPECIALLY WHEN THE BARGAIN IS NOT LEGALLY BINDING?!

    Now, if you’re saying, as Grinebiter did, that welshing on plea bargains is bad for the justice system, then yes, I’m totally on board. A DA so incompetent that their bargain gets reneged on should be tarred and feathered and paraded down Main Street. And the judge who allows a plea bargain to go through and then backs out of it should be forced to pay the costs of the next jury trial out of pocket.

    Not least for that reason I would second Bitchen Frizzy; please reduce the temperature. Not only are Muzz and I not Roman Polanski in person, we are not even defending him, just commenting on the flawed process that makes what to do with him even a question

    I’m not angry in the way that you think. I’m not accusing Muzz of being a rape apologist. I just get impatient at having to repeat myself. There is no flaw in the system that introduces any ambiguity into what to do with Polanski.

    Muzz said this:

    If you don’t like the fact that a deal was made at all, you have to go back all those years and talk to them.

    What he’s saying here is that Roman Polanski has a case based on a legal technicality. I pointed out that Muzz is in fact incorrect. The only counterargument at this point is to repeat “But it’s not fair over and over, and for me that gets annoying in a big hurry.

    Especially since, if you cut to the chase the question becomes what’s more unfair, plea bargain reneged on or child rapist gets 45 days time already served?

  • bitchen frizzy

    –“You are letting your emotions get the better of you because you think it’s unfair perhaps that plea bargains are not binding.”

    Josh, you’re the one banging out all-caps and screaming obscenities. I was just throwing in my 2c on the legal fine points, as I am wont to do, and I did so calmly. I made no mention of “fairness.” Don’t project that on me, please.

    “Fairness,” to you, seems to be a sentence that you agree with.

    –“If you’re a maximin player, you go for the full trial. Bitchen, you concur?”

    Well, yes, there’s strategy involved. The legal system is an adversarial process, and as such it’s a game to some extent.

  • Dart

    The fact that the girl was 13 years old is TOTALLY IRRELEVANT. Yes, that adds to the “ew” factor and everything. But if the story is in fact true, the fact remains that he DRUGGED SOMEONE TO HAVE SEX WITH HER. It’s the same thing that happens to women all over the world, whether they’re 13 or 44. And it’s rape, pure and simple. “Oh, sorry, I didn’t know she was 13! I thought the roofie colada would’ve just made her, er, happier, or something.”

  • SaintAndy

    @ Dart
    Are you kidding me? Of course the fact that the girl was 13 at the time, and Polanski knew about it, is extremely relevant. The point is, sometimes rape cases are difficult to try and/or get a conviction, because you get into the whole she said/he said argument, and then there’s the whole ” ..but she agreed to do this and that..and she never said no”.
    However, in the case of a 13 year old, there is absolutely NO controversy…a child cannot give consent for sex .. so the fact that Polanski later claimed in interviews (i.e. “Wanted and Desired”) that he noticed the girl was experienced and knew what she was doing is absolute insanity on his part.

    This case really makes me froth at the mouth, no matter how much I try to stay detached…the point is he raped a minor, admitted to raping a minor, realized he might get a very long sentence, and fled..and spent the rest of his life in bliss in Europe.

    The whole plea bargain bullshit is just that ..bullshit. He is guilty (based on solid evidence + his testimony)..he never served proper time…justice should take its course ..and he should go to jail.

    The alternative…if we are to base our predictions on the people who support Polanski (because he’s talented and a victim…boo-hoo…poor him ..NOT) is to write exceptions in the law…such as …People will be prosecuted for murder ..except Hollywood celebrities ..and Paris Hilton.

    Seriously…if the law is not applied consistently..if rules are not enforced regularly…everything goes to shit.

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