If Rape is an Art, Give All the César to Polanski: The Protest in France Against the Protectionism of the Film Industry

César to Polanski BELatina Latinx
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While on this side of the Atlantic Harvey Weinstein battles in court a conviction for over three decades of systematic sexual abuse and harassment, on the other side Roman Polanski remains under the cloak of protection of the French film industry.

Following the announcement of the César nominations a few days ago, the French feminist community has taken to the streets to demonstrate against the protectionism and media survival of film director Roman Polanski, who since 1978 has evaded American justice after being found guilty of drugging and sexually abusing a 13-year-old girl.

The Polish director made a name for himself in the United States by directing such films as Knife in the Water (1961) and Repulsion (1965), and his career took off with the 1968 horror film Rosemary’s Baby. After the murder of his pregnant wife and four friends in his mansion in 1969 by the Manson family, Polanski moved to Europe and continued to reap successes such as Macbeth (1971) and Chinatown (1974). 

However, in March 1977, Polanski was arrested in Los Angeles on five charges of drugging and abusing 13-year-old Samantha Gailey, one of the models hired by Vogue Hommes for a special edition. During the second photo shoot at Jack Nicholson’s house, Gailey claimed that Polanski gave her a Quaalude and proceeded to abuse her in the hot tub.

The director pleaded guilty after a deal that would allegedly dismiss most of the charges leaving only the minor charge of illicit sex and under the condition of a court-ordered psychiatric examination.

Upon learning that the judge would not accept his request for parole and that he would be convicted and deported, Polanski escaped to France in February 1978, just hours before his conviction was made public, the Daily Mail recalled.

After quietly rebuilding his life, the director was arrested by Swiss police at Zurich airport on September 26, 2009 while trying to attend the Zurich Film Festival to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award. After negotiations between the Swiss Federal Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Justice, the court rejected the extradition request and released Polanski into custody.

Over the past decade, the director has continued to enjoy success under the tutelage of the European establishment, including films such as The Ghost Writer (2010), Carnage (2011), Venus in Fur (2013), Based on a True Story (2017), and An Officer and a Spy (2019) which won him a standing ovation and the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival.

However, the feminist movement in France would not let Polanski get away with it.

A wave of national protests forced him to cancel interviews and promotions and, according to thelocal.fr. “The “unconditional support” the director has enjoyed from the French film establishment seems to be crumbling,” especially after a French photographer broke her silence and accused him of rape in 1975, when she was 18.

“Valentine Monnier claimed Polanski tried to make her swallow a pill when he pounced on her after they had gone skiing in Gstaad,” the media reported. “’I thought I was going to die,’ she said in an open letter published by Le Parisien newspaper.”

This, however, did not prevent An Officer and a Spy from receiving a dozen nominations for the César Awards, which will be held on February 28.

The response from the feminist movement was even stronger.

The organization Osez le Féminisme! (Dare Feminism!) published an open letter signed by several personalities and associations who called for a boycott of Polanski, as well as a demonstration in front of the Salle Pleyel on February 28th to show their rejection.

“With these 12 nominations, the film world has given its frank and unconditional support to a rapist on the run, who admitted to drugging and raping a 13-year-old child and fleeing from American justice,” the signatories stated. “Two years after #METOO, while in the United States Harvey Weinstein faces life imprisonment, in France we cheer and celebrate a child rapist on the run.”