Sunday, May 16, 2010
Stop me if you've heard this one before: Roman Polanski is accused of molesting a young girl.
Anyone who's watched or read the news for longer than a few minutes this weekend probably knows that 42-year-old Charlotte Lewis -- who was once 16-year-old Charlotte Lewis, drop-dead-gorgeous star of Polanski's unmemorable 1986 film Pirates and who later became the only thing worth looking at in The Golden Child -- is now coming forward to claim that Polanski essentially raped her during an early audition for his movie. Why she waited 26 years to speak up about an incident that she says she'll "never forgive Polanski" for is one of those things I'm not going to dare get into. Whether you're willing to believe her story now, after all this time, kind of cuts to the core of childhood sex abuse claims made by adults or accusations of rape made long after the fact; it likely reveals just which side of the fence you generally come down on in cases like this.
I can appreciate Lewis's assertion that she simply got tired of watching Hollywood and the European intelligentsia shamelessly rally around and cover for a guy as rotten as Polanski, just because they happen to consider him one of their own. But that still doesn't explain why she didn't crack last year, when the entertainment world's heaviest hitters unforgivably began adding their names to a petition in support of Polanski, and pompous assholes like Bernard-Henri Lévy were penning impassioned diatribes from on high that both sung the praises of the director and decried the supposedly puritanical forces aligning against him from the ignorant unwashed across the pond. Once again, though, who's to say how any specific person should or will react to a traumatic experience in his or her own life? It's up to you to decide if you're willing to take someone like Charlotte Lewis at her word and not immediately try to sniff out some sinister ulterior motive on her part.
Personally, I don't think it's much of a stretch to imagine Polanski plying a hot 16-year-old with champagne and then screwing her -- the same way I don't think it takes a huge leap of logic to assume that the same 16-year-old aspiring actress would use her beauty and sexuality -- or at the very least allow it to be used -- to get her a part she desperately wanted. That Polanski happens to have a proven track record of pulling grotesque shit like this only goes to further remove any benefit of the doubt somebody might be inclined to give him; that Lewis had her coming out party during a press conference called by none other than her new counsel, diabolically opportunistic puppet-master Gloria Allred -- a woman who never met a camera she didn't like or couldn't damage irreparably with her steely Medusan gaze -- suddenly makes her intentions seem more than a little suspect.
The bottom line, though, is that Lewis's claim -- true or false -- changes nothing. Not a damn thing. Anyone with an even perfunctory sense of right and wrong already knew that Roman Polanski was a despicable little toad who gets off on preying on young girls and gives himself a pass for it because he's an artist; one more accusation thrown into the mix isn't going to alter that perception, possibly not even in court. As hopelessly cliché as this may sound, it'll eventually come down to her word against his, and in the end he'll win. No, what matters is that no one needs to accuse Polanski of anything at this point. That's because he's already been convicted. From the very beginning of the "debate" over whether or not Roman Polanski should be forced to return to the United States to face justice for the rape of a young girl -- that would be the 13-year-old he was proven to have molested -- the whole thing has been bogged down by misguided apologists for Polanski who've tried to take your, my and everyone else's eye off the ball. They've done it by muddying up the otherwise crystalline waters with irrelevant points and extraneous arguments; they've done it by making the legacy of the State of California v. Roman Polanski about the supposed vagaries inherent in rape cases -- instead of about the simple, irrefutable fact that faced with an outcome he didn't like, Polanski ran. He chose to become a fugitive. He was convicted in the court of the state and country where he committed his crime -- yet he never accepted a sentence other than one he decided for himself, that he felt he deserved. That's not the way it works. He's not above the law.
If Roman Polanski really did force himself on a young Charlotte Lewis, then that's sickening and obviously a very serious tragedy for her personally -- one she's had to come to terms with throughout her life. But make no mistake: The people of the state of California don't need the testimony of Lewis to make a case against Polanski. They already did, 33-years ago -- and they won.
The rest, Polanski did all by himself.
Here now is the original piece I wrote for this site and the Huffington Post in response to the arrest of Roman Polanski back in September of last year.
"The Fall of Roman" (Originally Published, 9.29.09)
I'll try to make this quick.
Roman Polanski needs to come back to the United States and face his conviction for drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl in 1977. Period.
Why? Because he intentionally ran out on the justice system in the country where he committed his crime and has never been held accountable for what he did by standards that weren't his own. Simple as that.
Now, does he deserve prison time? Does he deserve mercy? These are questions for others to debate so I'm not going to bother getting into them, but one byproduct of the admittedly surprising arrest of Polanski in Switzerland really is worth exploring, because it's something that should leave a bad taste in the mouth of just about everyone, yet strangely doesn't. I'm talking about the idea that Roman Polanski should somehow be considered above the law because he's a talented artist.
It took all of a few hours after Polanski's arrest in Zurich for the notoriously pompous European artist community to rush to his defense, claiming outrage and indignation at the notion that Polanski could be impolitely busted while visiting Switzerland to receive a lifetime achievement award for his filmography. They're calling it a "provocation." The implication is crystal clear: There is often an unnavigable gulf between the artist and his work and, dammit, that's okay; you can honor the man's abilities without letting your paean be tarnished by any of the nastier realities of who he is or what he's done. If this kind of nonsense sounds familiar, it's because we all just lived through weeks of it when Michael Jackson died. Although it's never wise to willfully trample on someone's grave, you can't simply pay tribute to an artist's talents without recognizing that there's a very real person who may be guilty of very real crimes at the center of your love-fest.
And yet Europe's artistic community -- specifically French, Swiss and Polish filmmakers and cultural trendsetters -- seem to truly believe that Roman Polanski's abilities should amount to a Get Out of Jail Free card. That it's okay if the stereotypically tortured artist broke a few eggs along the way as long as the omelet came out looking like The Pianist. That in the end, the greater good was served by having Polanski free to make movies.
Just some of the reaction to the arrest: "(Polanski was) thrown to the lions," says says French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand, melodramatically. "In the same way that there is a generous America that we like, there is also a scary America that has just shown its face."
"(He has) atoned for the sins of his young years. He has paid for it by not being able to enter the U.S. and in his professional life he has paid for it by not being able to make films in Hollywood," says Jacek Bromski, head of the Polish Filmmakers Association.
You're kidding, right? Roman Polanski has paid for raping a kid by not being able to live in Hollywood and being forced to make his movies -- and his vast fortunes -- in France? A comment like that is just shocking in its detachment from the reality you and I call home.
It's true we let talented people -- from musicians, to actors, to athletes -- get away with quite a bit more than the Average Joe in our society. As Chris Rock famously said, if OJ Simpson had been simply "Orenthal the Bus Driving Murderer," he would've been in jail twelve years ago. But there's a difference between admitting that we can occasionally be starstruck blind and literally making excuses for someone's criminal behavior because they happen to entertain us with their music, movies, etc. Once again, I'm not arguing whether or not Roman Polanski belongs in prison; I'm saying that he shouldn't be able to avoid prison just because he's Roman Polanski.
We can let our entertainers get away with being assholes -- but not rapists. In a case like this, you can't separate Polanski the man from Polanski the artist. And it's reprehensible to even try.