On March 23, 2003—a date which will live in infamy—whatever sense of probity Hollywood had left was sacrificed at the altar of commerce.
That night, people across the world tuned in to the 75th Academy Awards, broadcast live from Los Angeles’ Kodak Theatre.
It was, by any measure, a disaster.
The ABC telecast drew an average of 33 million viewers stateside, its lowest total since Nielsen began tracking Oscars viewers in 1974. The Pianist’s Adrien Brody celebrated his surprise Best Actor win by molesting the mouth of presenter Halle Berry (a violation that was, believe it or not, passed off as heartwarming). Best Documentary honoree Michael Moore delivered a diatribe against the Iraq War that earned him a chorus of boos. Even host Steve Martin, paragon of kindliness and do-goodery, kicked off the show with a terribly homophobic monologue aimed at Hollywood’s “gay Mafia.”
Oh, and lest we forget: Harvey Weinstein, the imposing movie mogul then lording over the mini-major Miramax, had a hand in four of the five Best Picture nominees—Chicago, The Hours, Gangs of New York, and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers—and a staggering 46 nominations overall. His crime-musical Chicago eventually proved the night’s big winner, taking home six Oscars, including Best Picture.
The event’s most shocking moment, however, came in the Best Director category. Most pundits saw Martin Scorsese as a virtual lock for helming Gangs of New York. He was “due,” brutally rebuffed for cinema classics like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas, and had the backing of the Svengali himself, Harvey Weinstein.
And then it happened: “And the Oscar… goes to Roman Polanski for The Pianist,” announced Harrison Ford, flashing an approving grin. Scorsese, Weinstein, Meryl Streep, and a host of others rose to their feet, giving the filmmaker a 30-second standing ovation. Their eyes darted around the room, curious to see who would be accepting the award on his behalf. You see, Polanski could not be in attendance that evening—or even in the country. He was living in exile in Europe, having pleaded guilty to “unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor.”
Over 14 years later, after dozens of women spoke out and accused Weinstein of sexual harassment or assault, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) chose to give him the boot.
“The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Board of Governors met today to discuss the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, and has voted well in excess of the required two-thirds majority to immediately expel him from the Academy,” read a statement released Oct. 14. “We do so not simply to separate ourselves from someone who does not merit the respect of his colleagues but also to send a message that the era of willful ignorance and shameful complicity in sexually predatory behavior and workplace harassment in our industry is over. What’s at issue here is a deeply troubling problem that has no place in our society. The board continues to work to establish ethical standards of conduct that all Academy members will be expected to exemplify.”
Weinstein became only the second person ever to have an Academy membership revoked, following in the footsteps of Carmine Caridi (The Godfather)—a character actor that was shown the door after lending his copyrighted DVD screeners to a pal who uploaded them online.
The Weinstein statement left many wondering how the Academy, which oversees the Academy Awards, could maintain a commitment to ending “sexually predatory behavior” while still counting people like Roman Polanski and Bill Cosby among its ranks.
In a letter to Academy executives obtained by The Blast last week, representatives for two of Cosby’s alleged victims, actresses Louisa Moritz and Carla Ferrigno (wife of Lou), wrote: “It is our understanding that (the accused) rapist Bill Cosby, and convicted pedophile rapist Roman Polanski are still members of the Academy in ‘good standing.’ We are baffled by this dilemma.”
The note continued, “Please add our names to the others who are requesting that The Academy Board remove both Cosby and Polanski immediately. Their crimes, and in the case of Polanski, CONVICTIONS, should have no place in the Academy. Many in the community feel that this is negligent hypocrisy and part of the problem of powerful Academy members preying on the young men and women in our industry. These two men are the pioneers of this heinous behavior for our generation. Please expel them. Thank you.”
I’m not even sure how Cosby, who stands accused of sexual assault by over 50 women, obtained an Academy membership in the first place. He’s been in a handful of mostly crap films, and hasn’t appeared in a movie in over 20 years. Regardless, he has to go.
And, while Hollywood luminaries were quick to condemn both Weinstein and Cosby, they’ve repeatedly defended Polanski, a convicted child rapist.
On March 11, 1977, Polanski was arrested for the sexual assault of Samantha Jane Gailey (now Samantha Geimer), a 13-year-old model. The previous day, Polanski, who was 43 at the time, invited Geimer over to the L.A. home of Jack Nicholson for a photo shoot, allegedly for an edition of French Vogue that the filmmaker was guest-editing. Nicholson was out of the country, but his girlfriend at the time, the actress Anjelica Huston, was home.
“[Polanski] introduced me to [Geimer] and said that they had been taking pictures… She was wearing platform heels and appeared to be quite tall. Roman collected his jacket and cameras and they left together. I thought no more of it,” Huston wrote of that fateful day in her 2014 memoir Watch Me.
According to Geimer’s grand jury testimony, after Polanski supplied her with Champagne and half of a Quaalude, she felt “dizzy… like things were kind of blurry sometimes. I was having trouble with my coordination, like walking and stuff.” She then alleges that Polanski placed her on the bed and, despite her repeated protestations, removed her panties and performed oral, vaginal, and then anal sex on her.
“I was mostly just on and off saying, ‘No, stop.’ But I wasn’t fighting really because I, you know, there was no one else there and I had no place to go,’” she testified.
A California grand jury charged Polanski with: rape by use of drugs, perversion, sodomy, lewd and lascivious act upon a child under 14, and furnishing a controlled substance to a minor. Polanski ultimately pleaded guilty to the charge of “unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor” on the condition that the initial five charges be dismissed. After reporting to Chino State Prison for a 90-day period of psychiatric evaluation (he was released after 42 days), Polanski, learning that he’d be facing additional jail time, fled the country. He’s lived as a fugitive of justice ever since, living and working mainly in France, Poland, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic.
Despite his sexual-assault conviction, Hollywood’s A-listers have continued to flock to his 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.
In September 2003, Ford, perhaps the greatest living movie star, hand-delivered Polanski’s Best Director Oscar to him at the Festival of American Film in Deauville, France. Upon receiving the statuette, Polanski joked, “Maybe we should kiss… with tongues,” a nod to Madonna, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera’s onstage lip-lock at the MTV VMAs one week prior.
If that weren’t enough, in an interview this September with The New York Times, the Oscar-winning Winslet—who recently denounced Harvey Weinstein—defended her decisions to work with an accused child rapist in Woody Allen and a convicted one in Polanski.
“Of course one thinks about it. But at the same time, I didn’t know Woody and I don’t know anything about that family. As the actor in the film, you just have to step away and say, I don’t know anything, really, and whether any of it is true or false. Having thought it all through, you put it to one side and just work with the person. Woody Allen is an incredible director. So is Roman Polanski. I had an extraordinary working experience with both of those men, and that’s the truth,” she offered.
In the wake of sexual-misconduct allegations against powerful media figures like Cosby, Weinstein, Roger Ailes, and Bill O’Reilly, four more women have come forward accusing Polanski of sexual assault.
There is the British actress Charlotte Lewis, who claims Polanski sexually assaulted her at the age of 16. “He just said very coldly, ‘If you’re not a big enough girl to have sex with me, you’re not big enough to do the screen-test. I must sleep with every actress that I work with, that’s how I get to know them, how I mold them,’” she told the Daily Mail in January. A woman identified only as “Robin M.” held a press conference in August where she said she was “sexually victimized” by Polanski when she was 16, in 1973. In late September, a 61-year-old German actress named Renate Langer reported to Swiss authorities that the French-Polish filmmaker had raped her at a home in Gstaad in 1972, when she was 15, and then recounted to The New York Times how, after apologizing by offering her a part in his film Che?, he raped her again at a house in Rome. And on Friday, artist Marianne Barnard opened up to The Sun about a Malibu photo shoot in 1975 wherein Polanski allegedly “molested” her. She was only 10.
Back in September 2009, 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. The Hollywood film community rallied to his defense, circulating a petition with 138 high-profile signatories—including Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, and Harvey Weinstein—that demanded “the immediate release” of the “renown and international artist.”
“Filmmakers in France, in Europe, in the United States and around the world are dismayed by this decision. It seems inadmissible to them that an international cultural event, paying homage to one of the greatest contemporary filmmakers, is used by the police to apprehend him,” read the petition. “Roman Polanski is a French citizen, a renown and international artist now facing extradition. This extradition, if it takes place, will be heavy in consequences and will take away his freedom. Filmmakers, actors, producers and technicians—everyone involved in international filmmaking—want him to know that he has their support and friendship.”
Well, filmmakers in France, in Europe, and in the United States, it’s long past time for you to stop aiding this convicted sexual predator. He does not deserve your “support and friendship.” His victims, on the other hand, most certainly do.