Roman Polanski is a rapist; or, why Chinatown doesn’t matter

Roman Polanski is a child rapist. And Michael Vick killed dogs for pleasure. These are the facts, and they are undisputed.

Shame – SHAME – on anyone who defends those actions.

This doesn’t mean Polanski hasn’t gone through incredible, unspeakable horror and trauma in his life. Born in Paris in 1933, he and his ethnically Jewish but religiously agnostic parents moved to Krakow in 1939, only to be quarantined to ghettos by the ensuing Nazi invasion. Although Roman was able to escape the ghetto in 1943, his parents were not so lucky. His father was sent to the Mauthausen death camp and fought to survive through it, reuniting with Roman shortly after the war. His mother was sent to Auschwitz and was murdered.  The swelling ideology that overtook a nation and turned otherwise moral but weak minds into monsters has yet to leave our world; Mrs. Polanski’s murderers are reborn every day, and her son will never escape that.

As if this karmic punishment weren’t enough, Polanski also had to suffer through the murder of his wife, Sharon Tate, and unborn son. Polanski met Tate while filming The Fearless Vampire Killers back in 1967, and while neither apparently thought much of the other when they first began working together, by the completion of the film they were romantically living together in London. According to many, the relationship was a passionate one that gave Polanski some of the joy he most certainly lost during the holocaust. Of course, all that would change when, in 1969, while Polanski was abroad prepping a film, members of the Charles Manson cult entered the unlocked house Tate and Polanski shared in Bel Aire and ritualistically murdered Tate, her three friends, an unwitting visitor, and the unborn son that had rested 8 months in Tate’s womb. According to police reports and Tate’s murderer, Susan Atkins, not only was Tate stabbed 16 times while pleading for mercy, no less than 5 of those stab wounds alone were fatal. Polanski’s loss was magnified when a predatory press began to speculate, prior to the arrest of the Manson cult members, that Polanski’s hit film Rosemary’s Baby clearly pointed to strange satanist rituals and orgies the couple would host behind closed doors. Of course, the press was sure these self-inflicted practices were to blame for Tate’s death. Of course, these allegations were completely unfounded and debased by the arrests.

No one, not even a least-favored enemy, should have to be dragged through one of these horrific episodes, much less both. It’s too much to fathom. This kind of history can’t help but leave wounds too deep to remove, too wide to sew shut. Too rooted in the image of the feminine to be forgotten.

And yet, Roman Polanski is a child rapist. And Michael Vick killed dogs for pleasure.

According to court transcripts, on March 10, 1977, Roman Polanski picked up 13-year-old Samantha Gailey (now Geimer) for a picture shoot commissioned by French Vogue Magazine and centered around teenage female models. This was not the first time Polanski had photographed Gailey; little over two weeks prior, they had one previous session together on a hill by Gailey’s house, during which Polanski persuaded Gailey to remove her shirt for topless photos. According to later statements, most immediately seen in the 2008 documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, Geimer recalled how she was thrilled to work with the great Roman Polanski, by this time the world famous director of the modern classic Chinatown. However, let us put aside reflections upon the incident and return to the court-recorded account of the incident. Polanski first picked up Gailey from her house in the late afternoon, took her to an unidentified house for one round of photographs, but with about 5 people residing on that property decided to retreat to Jack Nicholson’s home just down the street on Mulholland. There, Polanski and Gailey encountered one dark-haired woman (unnamed but suspected to be Anjelica Houston, Nicholson’s girlfriend at the time). Polanski spoke to the dark-haired woman, then retrieved a bottle of champagne from the refrigerator, asking the 13-year-old Gailey whether he should open it or not. She said she didn’t care. He opened the bottle, poured three glasses. The dark-haired woman drank half her glass, then left for work. Polanski began to photograph Gailey with the champagne glass in hand, periodically refilling it to the point where Gailey could not remember how much she finally had. At this point, Polanski had again convinced her into topless photos.

Polanski then asked Gailey to continue posing in the outdoor jacuzzi. Before they stepped outside, Gailey placed a call to her mother, during which Polanski assumed the phone and assured the mother that she did not need to come pick up her daughter, that Polanksi would provide her with a ride home. Gailey then retreated to the bathroom, where Polanski joined her, presenting a pill split in three parts. Similar to the interaction involving the champagne, Polanski asked her if it was a Quaalude. She said yes. She had seen a couple before, and had experimented with one roughly about 2 or 3 years prior. He asked if he’d be able to drive if he took one. She didn’t know. He asked if he should take it. She didn’t know. He decided to take one. He asked if she wanted one. She said okay. She later said to authorities that she wouldn’t have taken one if she weren’t as drunk on champagne as she was.

Gailey, lacking a bathing suit and not wanting to get her dress wet, decided to go into the jacuzzi in her underwear. Not having a bra with her, this meant panties only. Polanski persuaded her to take the panties off as well. Gailey complied, later testifying to her fear of him. Polanski snapped a series of pictures, then retreated to the house, then returned without clothes, then joined her in the jacuzzi. Gailey became uncomfortable, and expressed her desire to leave the jacuzzi. Polanski beckoned her to join him at his end. She resisted, even saying her asthma was acting up when, in truth, she was not and had never before suffered from asthma. She simply wanted an excuse to get out. His persistence brought her over, but feeling uncomfortable as he ran his hands along the sides of her waist, she finally pulled herself out of the water and into a towel. Polanski retreated to the pool, beckoned her in, and to satisfy his request, she dove in and swam one length of the pool – again, both are completely naked – before getting out and back into the towel.

Gailey returned to bathroom to dry off and put her panties back on. Polanski joined her, concerned about her asthma. She asked to be driven home immediately. He said he would take her shortly. First, he wanted her to join him in the bedroom. With no other way home, she obliged him, sitting on a couch in the bedroom. Polanski joined her there. He asked if she was okay. She said she wanted to go home. He said she would feel better. He then started kissing her. She said no, but being afraid and intoxicated, she was not violent about it. He assured her he would take her home soon, then he removed the towel around her torso, then her panties, and began giving her oral sex. She again said no, but he did not stop. He then put his penis in her vagina and began having intercourse with her, during which he asked first if she was on the pill – no – and when she had her last period – two or three weeks prior. He said that he wouldn’t ejaculate inside her, then asked if she would prefer him to go through her anus. She said no. Despite her answer, he lifted her legs and put his penis in her anus. In speaking to authorities, she did not resist much because she was still afraid of him.

At this time, the dark-haired woman knocked on the door and asked if Polanski was in there. Polanski retreated to the door, cracked it an inch while he spoke with the woman, allowing Gailey to put her panties back on and walk toward the door. Polanski walked her back to the bed and, pulling her panties down, resumed anal intercourse with her up through his climax. Semen was left on her backside and in her panties. She pulled the panties back on, entered the bathroom, re-dressed herself, combed her hair, walked down the hall, said hello to the dark-haired woman lounging in the living room, left the house, and entered the car, waiting for Polanski to join her and drive her home.

These are the facts, and they are undisputed.

So Roman Polanski is a child rapist. And Michael Vick murdered dogs for pleasure.

Roman Polanski went through hell and back twice in his lifetime to be one of the finest directors the film industry has ever known. Rosemary’s Baby, Repulsion, Chinatown, these films are some of my favorites, and will continue to be considered as such. Chinatown will never come down from my shelf except to either load into my DVD player or loan out to those unexposed to its brilliance. But his talents do not nor should not cloud the fact that he used the privileges of his race, gender, age and artistic status to unduly manipulate a mentally-developing minor into a sexual act in which she did not want to engage. This makes him a rapist, pure and simple. This is not a question of morals, or even of a liberated European colliding against American Puritanism (and even if it was, the two cultures are incomparable: a 13-year-old French girl will have a vastly different emotional maturity than a 13-year-old American, and our respective laws must reflect that). Perhaps that argument might have held water if the act was consensual. But it was not. It was rape by any definition of the word.

For this act, Polanski first pleaded innocent to all six charges:

1) furnishing drugs to a minor;
2) lewd or lascivious acts to a child under 14 years of age;
3) unlawful sexual intercourse;
4) rape by use of drugs;
5) perversion;
6) sodomy.

The plea held until the undeniably incriminating evidence of the panties surfaced. This not only makes him a rapist but a liar as well. So at this point, he accepted a plea deal as set forth by Gailey’s attorney and agreed upon by the prosecution that saw Polanski cop to the weakest of the 6: unlawful sexual intercourse. (That sodomy was ranked a more punishable crime than statutory rape is somewhat disturbing, but at least it is no longer a crime at all.) Unfortunately, from here on out, the presiding judge, the now infamous Laurence J. Rittenband, completely boggled the case with his strange, disturbing, and illegal theatrics meant to sway the swarm of publicity into his personal favor. However, all that said, Rittenband still only wanted Polanski to serve 90 days in Chino State Prison for his mandatory psych evaluation. If Rittenband was to be trusted, and this is debatable, he would not have sentenced Polanski to any more jail time. However, because Chino let him out after a mere 42 days of evaluation (according to the prosecuting attorney in the case, although nobody serves the full 90 days, nobody only serves 42), Rittenband did not want to look the fool in the eyes of the press-filtered public, and told both sets of attorneys that he would sentence Polanski to a lengthier jail sentence but repeal the sentence after the first 48 days were served, thereby bringing the total days of incarceration up to 90. Upon hearing the judge’s intention, Polanski did not want to risk a multi-year sentence subject to Rittenband’s fluctuating moods, so he drove to LAX, booked a one-way ticket to London, and never came back. Now we add “flight from justice” to the charges against him.

He loses his mother to a holocaust institutionalized by murderous lunatics. He becomes a successful and respected film director. He loses his wife and unborn child to a cult of murderous lunatics. He continues to gain great acclaim in his artistic career. He rapes a 13-year-old girl. He flees to Europe for 31 years. And now he is caught again in Switzerland, hoping to attend the Zurich Film Festival to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award. Instead, he sits in a jail cell, awaiting extradition to the United States for further legal action.

And the film community writes a petition for his release with no less than 110 names attached to them. Names like Martin Scorsese. Tilda Swinton. Darren Aronofsky. Debra Winger. Alexander Payne. Film artists I have both enjoyed and, more important and rare, respected.

Roman Polanski is an artist. A survivor of intense trauma. And he is a rapist. He raped a 13-year-old girl.

Never have I been more sickened to be a member of the film community.

Martin Scorsese I sadly understand, because his love of film and the film community surely must have blinded him from the facts of the case. But Tilda Swinton? Debra Winger? These women are supposed to be feminists. They are supposed to stand up for the rights of women all over the world. And here they are, defending a rapist. More than that, an admitted rapist. Why? Because the case is 30 years old. Because the victim, Samantha Geimer, has called for the charges to be dropped. Because film festivals must be international safe havens for artists.

All of these excuses are bullshit. Why?

Because Polanski did not stand to receive his punishment for the crimes he committed 30 years ago and must do so now. Knowing full well what the sentence could be when he made his plea bargain, his fleeing was not one of evading persecution but of cowardice.

Because if we listened to the forgiving pleas of every victim, then nearly every abusive husband would walk free.

Because film festivals must be safe havens for the work of filmmakers, not necessarily the filmmakers themselves. And last time I checked, Polanski wasn’t exactly a censured individual. I can still check out virtually any film of his readily available on DVD. It is also worth mentioning that he certainly hasn’t had a lack of work in the past 30 years, especially considering his 2002 Oscar for directing The Pianist.

Because Michael Vick killed dogs for his pleasure. And no one came to defend him based on his athletic achievements or checkered past when his court date arrived.

And yet, Michael Vick is still allowed to play football in the NFL, currently on the roster for the Philadelphia Eagles. Personally, I found this surprising. Not because I don’t think the man deserves to play. Simply because I didn’t think there would be a team who would want him or a fan base who would support him. I was wrong on both counts. And maybe I should have been. After all, he is a good player. But do we separate the man from his achievements? Where do we draw that line?

There are many differences between Michael Vick and Roman Polanski, but the most striking one to me is not the contrast in their race or class or profession. The main difference to me is that Michael Vick served his time. He stood for sentencing and went to prison for an act we as a culture deem reprehensible and destructive. And I must have a relative respect for that.

Where are the film artists who will hold Polanski responsible for his actions? Admitting his guilt does not hand-in-hand lead to indicting his body of  work, particularly because he does not play out these pedophiliac fantasies in his films. But to defend him with regards to his art is to say that the benefit he brings to society outweighs the destruction he has wrought as a rapist. If one were to look myopically at the individual achievements, that person might foolishly argue such a point. But to do so would overlook the role of rape in this – or any – culture. To do so would be to support the dominant male hegemony dependent on using rape as a power-check for women. If this were a murder case, there would be no question of Polansi’s guilt; we all understand the destructive nature of murder. But because so often girls are “asking” for it – after all, you see the way they dress. If they didn’t want it, they wouldn’t be so provocative, right? Besides, they probably like it when it happens anyway, they just won’t admit it because they’re too frigid. And where was her mother in all this? Oh yeah, and it involved sex, drugs, and cameras, and that’s just what happens sometimes.

So people are asking to overlook it. They are asking to overlook the inherent misogyny of the case, the way it tells women that not only are they partly to blame but that it’s basically okay to get raped by an artist as long as he’s a good artist. (For certainly, if this were someone less artistically respected, say, Michael Bay, would there be the same cultural outcry for his release?) Forget the fact that each of these “arguments” completely leaves out the fact that a crime was committed by a perpetrator. The girl didn’t ask for it, the mom wasn’t the person who broke the law, and artists do not live in another moral universe. There is a mythology to the struggling artist that includes emotional turmoil/torture that can only lead to alcoholic binges, misogynist tendencies, and bursts of sheer creative brilliance. Many look to this as an excuse for the artist in ways they do not with other types of people, particularly athletes. Particularly athletes of color.

In the aforementioned documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, a friend of Polanski’s asserted that Polanski was the perfect bogeyman for the press: he was short, he was dark haired, he had a thick accent. He was a perfect embodiment of the “other”. And if he wasn’t those things, then the trial would have gone much differently.

He’s not incorrect about that. If Polanski wasn’t small and foreign but poor and black, he’d be in jail to this day and we would never have heard about it, much less enjoyed a revered documentary about him. But something tells me that’s not what the friend was getting at.

Polanski was able to get away because he had money to immediately buy a transatlantic plane ticket. Because he had professional connections that would allow him continued work and income. Because he had status as an artist and knew he would be forgiven by the artistic community, and maybe even the culture at large. Hell, even his victim has forgiven him, and I am impressed with her courage to do so.

But personally, for me, I have not forgiven him, for he has not served his time. He has used his wealth and status as a shield from justice, just as many have before him, and many will continue to do.

And Michael Vick killed dogs for his pleasure. And served his time. And now plays football for the Philadelphia Eagles. And we can now decide whether we care to patron him and his team.

As for me, well, I don’t really like football in general, so I probably won’t be watching. But some people will, and bully for them. In the meantime, I may kick back and watch Chinatown for the 20th time.