How wrong I was.
But at a time when California is shredding the safety net that protects the poor and the unemployed, not to mention the budget of the public school system, you’d hope that L.A. County prosecutors had better things to do than cause an international furor by hounding a film director for a 32-year-old sex crime, especially one that Polanski’s victim wants to put behind her. As Marina Zenovich’s 2008 documentary, “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” ably chronicled, the original prosecution of Polanski was marred by all sorts of embarrassing missteps and strange behavior, largely by Laurence Rittenband, the original presiding judge.
Still, actions have consequences, and Polanski’s sins have not been forgotten. He has been barred from returning to the U.S. and prevented from traveling to other countries, including England, because of extradition issues. His career has clearly suffered from his inability to work in Hollywood, where he made such celebrated films as “Chinatown” and “Rosemary’s Baby.” He has been embraced by many—having won a number of awards over the years—but also shunned by a number of detractors. As he put it in his autobiography: “I am widely regarded, I know, as an evil, profligate dwarf.”
But he also has his stout defenders, notably French Minister of Culture Frederic Mitterrand, who said over the weekend that he was “dumbfounded” by Polanski’s arrest in Switzerland, adding that he “strongly regrets that a new ordeal is being inflicted on someone who has already experienced so many of them.”
In the coming weeks, the Polanski affair will no doubt become a tabloid sensation, with op-ed moralists, excitable bloggers and the Glenn Becks of the world noisily weighing in on the propriety of his possible prosecution. Some will say Polanski is a predator whose punishment is long overdue. Others will argue that it’s the height of folly to be stalking a 76-year-old man who has admitted his guilt and was long ago forgiven by his victim.
Imagine if the Knight of Columbus decided to give an award to a pedophile priest who had fled the country to avoid prison. The outcry would be universal. Victim groups would demand the award be withdrawn and that the organization apologize. Religion reporters would be on the case with the encouragement of their editors. Editorial writers and columnist would denounce the knights as another example of the insensitivity of the Catholic Church to sexual abuse.
And they would all be correct. And I would join them.
But why is there not similar outrage directed at the film industry for giving an award to Roman Polanski, who not only confessed to statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl but fled the country prior to sentencing? Why have film critics and the rest of the media ignored this case for 31 years? He even received an Academy award in 2003. Are the high priests of the entertainment industry immune to criticism?