How many Oscar nominations does one need in order to avoid facing justice for having raped a child? Are four nominations and one victory enough? Can artistic achievement absolve one of punishment for a horrible crime? And does the taint of such a dastardly act diminish the value of some of modern cinema’s greatest films?
With the recent arrest of controversial filmmaker Roman Polanski, who fled the U.S. three decades ago after raping a 13-year-old girl whom he plied with champagne and Quaaludes, it’s time to start asking these questions again.Â Polanski is currently being detained in Switzerland, arrested on an international warrant released by the Los Angeles County district attorneyâ€™s office.
Polanski began his film career in Poland, first acquiring fame for his 1962 movieÂ Knife In The Water.Â He spent many years in Hollywood making such films as Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and the neo noir classic Chinatown (1974).Â After fleeing the country in 1978, he continued to make films, including The Pianist, which won a “Best Film” Oscar in 2002.
Polanski was picked up in Switzerland as he was arriving to accept a lifetime-achievement award at the Zurich Film Festival. His arrest has outraged people all across Europe (including many prominent filmmakers). Â French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner released a statement calling the arrest â€œa bit sinister.â€
But what is more sinister — sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl, or the arrest of her rapist?
Hollywood and the media are speculatingÂ as to why authorities are going after Polanski so many years after his crime. Of course, they cite every reason except for one: he raped a 13-year-old.Â They dismiss the case because it was allegedly mishandled by a power-hungry judge.Â Even if that is true, didnâ€™t Polanski still rape a minor?
Many call for leniency with Polanski because he is a revered, world-famous artist. But his status as a great artist should not serve as a “get out of jail free” card.
Hollywood has demonstrated its moral bankruptcy with its handling of the Polanski saga. In 2002, Polanski not only won the “Best Film” award for The Pianist, but Harrison Ford accepted it in his honor and then personally flew it to him overseas.
Many of us who love film have a thick distaste for the leftist politics of Hollywood. Â But we should not let this get in the way of appreciating our most cherished films.Â Raiderâ€™s of the Lost Ark will always be one of my favorites, but if Steven SpielbergÂ says something that angers me — such as when he described his visit with Marxist dictator Fidel Castro as “the eight most important hours of my life” — I certainly want him to pay some sort of price in the court of public opinion. But my appreciation of his artistic talent need not go out the window. It’s okay to be critical of the industry and remain a fan of the cinema.