WHAT MORAL COMPASS?

It’s Not Just Tarantino: Hollywood’s History of Defending Child Rapist Roman Polanski

From Quentin Tarantino to Harvey Weinstein and Johnny Depp, the complicit A-listers and accused abusers of Hollywood have repeatedly gone to bat for the convicted rapist.

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

Recently resurfaced audio of director Quentin Tarantino defending convicted child rapist Roman Polanski has aged about as well as expected.

Tarantino has been under intense scrutiny in the wake of a New York Times interview in which Kill Bill star Uma Thurman accuses the director of pressuring her into an unsafe stunt, as well as ultimately failing to protect her from Harvey Weinstein. Tarantino, who has admitted in the past to knowing “enough” about the sexual assault allegations against Weinstein “to do more than I did,” responded to Thurman’s testimony with assurances that he had personally atoned. Reflecting on “how Harvey was able to do all the things he did,” Tarantino told Deadline, “I’ve already dealt with my…complacency,” adding, “One of the things that has happened in this whole thing is there is a lot of staring in the mirror. And thinking about, how did you think about things during that time? What did you do in that time?”

An unearthed clip from a Howard Stern interview answers those questions, illustrating exactly how Tarantino thought about sexual misconduct in 2003. In the audio, Stern asks Tarantino about “this director who raped a 13-year-old.” Tarantino goes on to passionately defend Polanski, saying, “He didn’t rape a 13-year-old. It was statutory rape... he had sex with a minor. That’s not rape. To me, when you use the word rape, you’re talking about violent, throwing them down—it’s like one of the most violent crimes in the world. You can’t throw the word rape around. It’s like throwing the word ‘racist’ around. It doesn’t apply to everything people use it for.” Later on, he insisted that, “She wanted to have it and dated the guy.” Even when pressed on some of the details of the incident—like Polanski giving the 13-year-old girl in question “booze and pills” before raping her—Tarantino concluded, “Look, she was down with this.”

This stunning audio is a relic from a time when it was not uncommon, or even particularly frowned upon, for famous people to defend their famous, rapist friends. And no convicted rapist was defended as ardently as Roman Polanski, the beloved director who managed to literally and figuratively outrun his past for years. Polanski’s well-known case centers around an incident that occurred in 1977. Polanski was photographing Samantha Geimer, a 13-year-old aspiring actress, for a French Vogue photoshoot. According to Geimer’s grand jury testimony, the famous director told her to take her top off during the session. “She had nice breasts,” Polanski wrote. “I took pictures of her changing and topless.”

A few months later, Polanski made another appointment with Geimer. He took her to Jack Nicholson’s house where, according to The New Yorker, “Polanski poured glasses of Cristal champagne” and “began taking pictures of Samantha sipping the champagne.” Later, Polanski offered Geimer part of a Qualuude, which she took. She testified that, “I think I must have been pretty drunk or else I wouldn’t have.” According to Geimer, she asked to leave multiple times, and told Polanski “no, stop” throughout the ensuing sexual assault. Polanski pled guilty to felony statutory rape, and ultimately fled the country.

In September 2009, as The Daily Beast previously reported, “Polanski was en route to the Zurich Film Festival—where he was set to receive a lifetime achievement award—when he was arrested by Swiss police on a U.S. arrest warrant related to his 1977 guilty plea.” This incident led to Hollywood’s infamous petition in defense of Roman Polanski, which was signed by 138 entertainment industry heavyweights.

As The Daily Beast’s Marlow Stern noted last year, “Despite his sexual-assault conviction, Hollywood’s A-listers have continued to flock to [Polanski’s] films. There was Harrison Ford in 1988’s Frantic; Hugh Grant toplining 1992’s Bitter Moon; Johnny Depp’s star turn in 1999’s The Ninth Gate; Ewan McGregor as a tortured scribe in 2010’s The Ghost Writer; and Kate Winslet and Jodie Foster in 2011’s Carnage. Polanski even had a cameo as a Paris police commissioner who gives Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan thorough cavity searches in the 2007 studio comedy Rush Hour 3.”

But beyond acceptance in Hollywood, a deeper dive into Polanski’s most adamant A-list apologists now reads like a who’s who of accused abusers and clearly complicit dudes. Like Tarantino, Harvey Weinstein himself emphatically defended the director. In a 2009 op-ed in The Independent, the now thoroughly disgraced producer explained, “Thierry Frémaux, the director of the Cannes film festival, and I are calling on every US filmmaker to lobby against any move to bring Polanski back to the US, where he could face life in jail.” He continued, “Whatever you think about the so-called crime, Polanski has served his time.”

In the same op-ed, Weinstein recalled taking Tarantino with him “to a very private screening of the documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, which shows some of the legal irregularities of his case.” The Weinstein Company bought the international distributing rights to that documentary. Weinstein then mentioned another A-lister, writing, “When Martin Scorsese was up to win best director for Gangs of New York, we faced Polanski and The Pianist. We were campaigning hard for Marty because he had never won best director, but when Marty lost to Roman, he turned to me and said: ‘I’m so happy right now. Of all the people in the world that I’d want to lose to, it’s Roman. You have to understand that Polanski’s films have influenced me as an artist all these years and his terrible political situation has been something we have all had to suffer through. We won because Roman won.’”

Weinstein’s plea on Polanski’s behalf has recently been amended with an editor’s note which reads, “This article was published some years before allegations of sexual abuse were made against its author.”

A 2009 Los Angeles Times article about the Polanski case reported that Weinstein was “not convinced public opinion is running against the filmmaker and dismisses the categorization of Hollywood as amoral.”

“Hollywood has the best moral compass, because it has compassion,” Weinstein told the Los Angeles Times. “We were the people who did the fundraising telethon for the victims of 9/11. We were there for the victims of Katrina and any world catastrophe.”

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While Weinstein was one of Polanski’s most vocal defenders, he wasn’t his only A-list ally—nor was he the only one to later be accused of wrongdoing himself. Johnny Depp insisted in 2010 that “Roman is not a predator,” continuing, “He’s 75 or 76 years old. He has got two beautiful kids, he has got a wife that he has been with for a long, long time. He is not out on the street.” He also echoed widespread suspicions about Polanski’s arrest, saying, “Why now? Obviously there is something going on somewhere. Somebody has made a deal with someone. Maybe there was a little money involved, but why now?” Depp has since been accused of domestic abuse by his ex-wife, Amber Heard.

The 2009 petition calling for Polanski’s release was notably signed by Woody Allen, Alexander Payne, and Asia Argento. Argento, a Weinstein accuser, has subsequently tweeted a statement in which she wrote, “I already regretted signing the petition years ago, already felt it was a mistake. No excuses… He is a filmmaker whose work I admired greatly. I still do. But if I ever see him, I will spit in his face.”

In an October tweet, Argento shared a picture of Polanski, accused serial sexual harasser James Toback, and the ever outspoken Alec Baldwin together at Cannes in 2012. Baldwin tweeted that the interview that photograph documented took place “BEFORE these recent allegations”—a reference to the fact that four more women have recently come forward to accuse Polanski of sexual assault. 

Argento isn’t the only surprising celebrity in Polanski’s deep bench of defenders. Mia Farrow flew to London in 2005 to testify on Polanski’s behalf in a libel trial against Vanity Fair, after the magazine alleged that the director propositioned a woman directly before his late wife’s funeral. Farrow reportedly told the jury, “I feel there’s a big distinction—for men maybe—between relationships and having sex. I don’t see that as disrespect of Sharon...I would swear that on a stack of Bibles.” Perhaps more infamously, Whoopi Goldberg proclaimed on The View in 2009 that Polanski’s actions weren’t “rape-rape.” She elaborated, “It was something else but I don’t believe it was rape-rape. He went to jail and when they let him out he was like, ‘You know what, this guy’s going to give me a hundred years in jail. I’m not staying.’ So that’s why he left.”

While Goldberg’s ridiculous distinction was mocked at the time, it’s worth noting that she was far from the only Hollywood heavyweight who was unabashedly pro-Polanski. Knowing what we know now, these defenses seem even sleazier and more indefensible.