It has been with horror that I have read most of the newspaper coverage of Roman Polanski’s arrest. It is bad enough, if predictable, that the famous have been queuing up to declare their support for him, a man who – let’s not forget – drugged and raped a 13 year-old. But why is some of the media buying it?
“He has suffered so much”, “It was a long time ago”, his admirers say. Both true, neither means we should forget what he has done. “He didn’t know she was 13”- possibly true, again no excuse. Rape is a crime, no matter what the perpetrator has gone through, how many years have since passed or how old the victim is, or was perceived, to be.
Among the highlights of the horrors, the Independent – from whom I would have hoped for better – closed its news story with the following lines:
“Polanski once demanded of an interviewer: “Do you think there is anything more to my life than my relationship with young women?” This weekend’s arrest suggests that in spite of his huge achievements as a film-maker and artist, the answer to this question as far as the US judicial system is concerned is still a resounding “No”.”
Well, of course it is a resounding no. Is the US judiciary now some sort of film critic? When crimes are assessed is it obligated to take into account what else the perpetrator has done for the world?
No, and we wouldn’t wish it to be.
The next day, the Indy called it “Polanski: the big debate”, with a very intelligent piece from Dominic Lawson – one of the few writing common sense on the subject – pitched against Harvey Weinstein arguing Polanski should be freed. Weinstein wrote of Polanski’s “so-called crime”. There is nothing “so-called” about what he did: even under the highly unlikely scenario that she had consented, it would still have been statutory rape because she was a minor.
I don’t see anything wrong with celebrating Polanski the film-maker, because moral judgments should not inform artistic verdicts. But nor should genius excuse criminality. Given him Oscars if you want, but Polanski the rapist deserves to do his time.