Roman Polanski is arguably the last person who should be weighing in on the value of the #MeToo movement. On the other hand, as one of the few Hollywood predators who has actually pleaded guilty to accusations of sexual misconduct, maybe his perspective is among the most relevant, no matter how aggravating.
And you can only imagine how aggravating that perspective is.
The Oscar-winning filmmaker has called the #MeToo movement a “collective hysteria of the kind that sometimes happen in society.” Polanski’s diagnosis of what is otherwise considered a galvanizing and meaningful reckoning with pervasive patterns of sexual misconduct appeared in the Polish Newsweek.
The interview was apparently conducted days before Polanski was expelled from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences along with Bill Cosby, thanks to new behavior guidelines instituted in the wake of the Academy’s decision to revoke Harvey Weinstein’s membership. Polanski is appealing the decision, alleging that he was denied due process.
According to the Associated Press, which first flagged the Newsweek interview, Polanski also said, “Everyone is trying to sign up, chiefly out of fear.” He compared those participating in the movement and the ensuing investigations to public mourning in North Korea when leaders die: Everyone cries histrionically because “you can’t help laughing.”
“To me this is total hypocrisy,” he said.
It’s certainly rich for a fugitive who is 41 years into exile after pleading guilty to unlawful sex with a minor to dismiss the movement which routinely evokes his name as an example of a different kind of hypocrisy, one the industry is trying to change. How could Hollywood have condoned working with Polanski all these decades in spite of his conviction, even awarding him a standing ovation for his 2003 Oscar win for directing The Pianist?
When the phalanx of Bad Men began to fall following the Weinstein investigations, the industry was compelled to address its selective moral outrage. That included turning a blind eye toward Polanski, a filmmaker whose art was respected to the point of A-list-endorsed petitions for his freedom.
(Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, and Christoph Waltz have all worked with Polanski in the last decade. And this should make you groan: He was actually promoting his latest film, Based on a True Story, at a Polish film festival when the Academy news came in.)
Facing a comeuppance as his industry discovers its conscience, Polanski’s reflex unsurprisingly isn’t just to dismiss the movement entirely, but to retaliate with self-victimization, a uniting refrain of so many of the accused.
Polanski’s lawyer called the Academy’s expulsion “psychological abuse of an elderly person” for “populist goals.”
When the Academy made the historic move to boot Weinstein, the first time it has ever litigated membership based on behavior (the only other member kicked out prior to him was punished for sharing screeners), focus turned to the perceived gray area of who would qualify for future adjudication and what the line would be to warrant banishment.
Members including Mel Gibson, Jon Lasseter, Brett Ratner, and Paul Haggis have been accused of sexual misconduct. But Polanski had actually been convicted. Why would it have taken 41 years to act, and only once Cosby’s conviction came, too?
Another of Polanski’s lawyers, Harold Braun, told Vanity Fair that Polanski’s eviction violates the director’s right to due process according to the Academy’s own rules, which he said was supposed to include notification of a ruling and the opportunity to present his case. But Variety counters that the code implemented following Weinstein also includes a provision allowing the board to rule unilaterally without following the new procedure.
All of this posturing—“It was a complete debacle that they didn’t follow their own rules,” Braun said—distracts from the almost laughable clarity of what due process would entail. Polanski pleaded guilty to having sex with a minor, an act decidedly not in accordance with the Academy’s code of conduct.
Polanski’s enraging #MeToo comments and defensiveness is even more exasperating because of how it pivots a complicated conversation away from the actual debate that needs to be had.
As we mentioned before, Roman Polanski is perhaps the last person whose perspective on the #MeToo movement one might want to hear. The victim in his 1977 case, however, should be the first.
Her reaction to the Academy’s decision and to her case being relentlessly repeated in the news is indicative of the real-world human consequences that we should be giving more credence to, but which are often ignored at the expense of so much punditry and pontificating.
Samantha Geimer, who was 13 when Polanski sexually assaulted her in 1977, reacted to the Academy ruling in a way that might surprise you.
“It is an ugly and cruel action which serves only appearance,” said Geimer, who is now 55. “It does nothing to change the sexist culture in Hollywood today and simply proves that they will eat their own to survive. I say to Roman, good riddance to bad rubbish, the Academy has no true honor, it’s all just P.R.”
Geimer has spoken out in the past saying that Polanski has apologized to her and that she’s forgiven him. This isn’t to say that anyone shouldn’t be disgusted by what Polanski did. Geimer, again, was just 13 when Polanski drugged her and raped her. It certainly follows that if the court of public opinion is ruling on Bad Men, that no statute of limitations has passed exempting Polanski from facing that jury.
But Geimer’s comments about the Academy’s superficiality are apt to consider when there are so many other men accused of misconduct within its ranks, and when it took so much time and such loud outcry for the organization to finally change its (typically rapturous) tune when it comes to Polanski.
These are the #MeToo voices that are worth listening to, because they are challenging and messy and angering and uncomfortable. God, not Roman Polanski’s.