As Woody Allen Falls, Where Is Roman Polanski’s Reckoning?

Roman Polanski at the 70th annual Cannes Film Festival, on May 27, 2017. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/ Getty Images)

It has been 25 years since claims first surfaced about Woody Allen’s sexual abuse of his daughter, Dylan Farrow, when she was just 7 years old. In the quarter century since, she has never stopped telling her story. Dylan has had to repeat herself because, over that same period of time, Allen has written 26 movies, scooping up multiple awards along the way, aided by a wealth of widely-respected Hollywood talent wishing to work with the director.

Blind eyes were turned, thanks in part to persistent rumors that Dylan’s story was a fabrication, somehow concocted by her mother, Mia Farrow, who had, in 1993, just found out about her husband’s affair with their other adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn. These rumors prevailed, despite the fact that in the custody case in which Dylan’s alleged abuse first became public knowledge, Justice Elliott Wilk concluded: 

“There is no credible evidence to support Mr. Allen’s contention that [Mia] Farrow coached Dylan, or that Ms. Farrow acted upon a desire for revenge against him for seducing Soon-Yi. Mr. Allen’s resort to the stereotypical “woman scorned” defense is an injudicious attempt to divert attention from his failure to act as a responsible parent and adult.”

In the end, not only was Allen not granted full custody of his children, as he had requested, but he was even denied visitation rights with Dylan, based on Justice Wilk’s conclusion that: “Mr. Allen’s behavior toward Dylan was grossly inappropriate and… measures must be taken to protect her.”

With that in mind, it makes no sense that Mia, Dylan, and her brother Ronan Farrow have been forced to tell Dylan’s story so many times, in so many different ways, over so many years. Especially when Allen’s very public relationship with Soon-Yi demonstrated a clear issue with his sexual boundaries within the realms of fatherhood.

In the wake of #MeToo and Time’s Up, Woody Allen’s reputation is finally taking a serious blow. As actors who have worked with him (including Selena Gomez, Ellen Page, David Krumholtz, Greta Gerwig, Timothee Chalamet, and Mira Sorvino) express regret for doing so, donate their movie fees to charity, or both, Allen’s career is likely over (at the ripe old age of 82). The recent cancellation of an upcoming production of Bullets Over Broadway, as well as rumors that his new movie A Rainy Day in New York may not get a theatrical release at all, mark a significant shift.

For the last 25 years, Allen’s story has been a flagrant demonstration that, with enough talent and prestige, Hollywood stars can shake off even the most heinous of allegations. More than that though, it stands as proof that even final legal judgements can be widely ignored. Now, as the tide finally turns, isn’t it time the world asked: Where is Roman Polanski’s reckoning?

The 1978 legal judgement passed down on Polanski was even more damning than the one Allen went on to face 15 years later. As has been common knowledge since it occurred, Polanski pleaded guilty to “unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor” (the less sanitized version of the incident includes drugging, raping, and sodomizing a 13 year old girl).

Ultimately, Polanski was released after serving only 42 days of a “90-day evaluation” at the California Institute for Men. It was then that the Judge in the case declared his intention to impose a longer sentence, and Polanski fled to France before that could happen. The director has been a fugitive ever since.

In that time, Polanski has directed 15 movies, winning three Oscars for 1979’s Tess (just one year after his conviction) and another three for 2002’s The Pianist. When this convicted child rapist won Best Director at the 2003 Academy Awards, this is the remarkable scene that followed (and yes, that is Meryl Streep giving him a standing ovation, along with Harvey Weinstein):

It’s clear that the movie industry has allowed itself to feel alright about working with Roman Polanski all these years, because the end of his case was complicated by an indecisive judge. To exacerbate the already sketchy scenario, the survivor in question has since asked that the case be put to rest.

In 2013, the now-adult Samantha Geimer wrote a book about it all — and the stress of being the center of this controversial case. It was (quite tellingly) titled: The Girl: A Life in the Shadow of Roman Polanski. In an excerpt featured on Today.com in 2013, Geimer writes about Polanski’s 2009 arrest in Switzerland thusly:

“Ask yourself this: Would you like the craziest thing that ever happened to you as a teenager broadcast and then dissected over and over on television, in the blogosphere? … So what was the sense of arresting Polanski now? Did society need to be protected from him? Did I?”

However, in a 2013 article, Geimer told Vanity Fair: “What I will say is: it was rape. Not only because I was underage, but also because I did not consent.” Which is why Geimer sued Polanski in 1988 “for sexual assault, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and seduction of a minor.” Polanski ultimately paid Geimer $500,000, plus interest.

Geimer’s reticence about Polanski’s 2009 arrest was born out of the desire to get on with her life — and who can blame her after over three decades of being hounded about it? It is worth noting that, in all likelihood, if Polanski had simply served his full sentence at the time of the initial trial, Geimer wouldn’t have had to keep re-living the case with such harrowing regularity.

So what of that 2009 arrest that had the potential to finally hold Polanski fully accountable? Well, first, the movie industry put together a petition to free him. The long list of signatures included those of Martin Scorsese, Tilda Swinton, Guillermo del Toro, Adrien Brody, Wim Wenders, Darren Aronofsky, accused sexual harasser Brett Ratner, Michael Mann, outspoken Harvey Weinstein opponent Asia Argento, and — wouldn’t you know it? — Woody Allen.

After spending nine months under house arrest in Gstaad, Polanski was released after Swiss authorities concluded that it couldn’t “be excluded with certainty that Roman Polanski, who was imprisoned in Chino State Prison for 42 days, has not already served the sentence imposed on him.”

We have now reached a point, however, where the conclusions of Switzerland and Hollywood, along with Samantha Geimer’s desire to put the case to rest, are no longer enough to justify Polanski’s continued presence in the film industry.

In November, five women came forward to accuse Polanski of sexual abuse when they were underage (specifically, between 9 and 16 years old.) This is in addition to another five women who had come forward prior. Whether or not the case brought against Polanski was a mess the first time around, there is a documented pattern of behavior that can no longer be ignored.

If the recent Woody Allen backlash has taught us anything, it’s that filmmakers are often not held accountable when non-famous people accuse them of horrors, until celebrities are also willing to condemn them publicly. Because most of Polanski’s biggest successes have occurred while he was already a fugitive, it is harder, however, for those celebrities to come forward with the same kinds of apologies we have seen from those who recently worked with Woody Allen. Put bluntly: everybody knew and nobody cared.

Polanski has faced a wide variety of vocal critics since his inability to see through his original case in 1978 — but not so much that he was unable to continue a thriving career. Now in his 80s, like Allen, Polanski is still making movies. His last, Based on a True Story, came out last May. But if time is up for Woody Allen, we surely have reached the point that someone should call time on Roman Polanski too. Like Allen’s reckoning, it will be too little, too late, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen at all.

As Woody Allen Falls, Where Is Roman Polanski’s Reckoning? 30 January,2018Rae Alexandra

  • LOL22

    It should be noted that among Roman Polanski’s defenders is Mia Farrow.

Author

Rae Alexandra

Rae Alexandra is On Call Producer for KQED Pop. Born and raised in Wales, she started her career writing for Britain’s biggest music magazines. After moving to California, she became a regular contributor to both SF Weekly and New York’s Village Voice. She regularly ruins your favorite ‘80s movies at MovieRuiner.com, and can be found on Twitter @raemondjjjj.

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