Roman Polanski winning the César Award for Best Director shows the so-called “French Oscars” yet again failing to condemn the child-rapist and demonstrates that despite the #MeToo movement, the fight for victims of such abuses of power is far from over. Just four days after the conviction of American producer Harvey Weinstein to rape in the first and third degree, the French-Polish director was awarded his sixth César since his conviction in 1977 to “unlawful sex with a minor”. This verdict was a part of a plea bargain which dropped the more serious charges of drugging and use of controlled substances in the statutory rape of Samantha Geimer when she was 13. The continual praise given to the disgraced director has consistently been reflected through his nominations for two Academy Awards, a Golden Globe, and a BAFTA – in addition to his six Césars for Best Director – since his fleeing from Los Angeles in 1978.
The convicted child-rapist’s most recent win has been granted in the aftermath of the #MeToo movement, and saw actor Adèle Haenel, starring in Portrait of a Lady on Fire, leave the ceremony, allegedly shouting “shame” as she left and sarcastically chanting “bravo la pédophilie”. She was joined by the director of Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Céline Sciamma in leaving, as well as the ceremony’s host, Florence Foresti, who refused to return to the stage to end the event.
Haenel herself revealed last year that she had been sexually abused by director Christophe Ruggia between the ages of 12 and 15 after she was cast in his 2002 film The Devils. The director’s response mirrors the rising sentiment that these accusations have the power to ruin men’s careers, with his statement that “my social exclusion is now underway, and there is nothing I can do to escape it”, portraying himself as “a man who has been destroyed because of one article”. Likewise, the film for which Polanski won the 2020 César, J’Accuse (An Officer and a Spy), focuses on the Dreyfus affair concerning Alfred Dreyfus who was prosecuted on inflated charges of treason using doctored evidence. Polanski admitted that he saw himself in the character saying that “I can see the same determination to deny the facts and condemn me for things I have not done”. In response to this, Ursula Le Menn, an activist for the “Dare to be Feminist” (Osez le Féminisme) group which protested outside of the ceremony, said that “Polanski has presented himself like Dreyfus, a victim, and used his film for his own defence. For women who have had the courage to speak out about the abuse they suffered, there is an enormous pain seeing this man distinguished”.
Although Samantha Geimer stated in a 2008 interview, 30 years after her rapist’s flight to France, that she thought that he was sorry and didn’t think that he was a danger to society, she stressed so in the context that no other allegations had been made against him at this time. However, since then, at least four women have come out with further accusations against the child-rapist: British actor Charlotte Lewis came out in 2010 (aged 16 in 1983 at the time of the alleged attack), Renate Langer in October 2017 (aged 15 in 1972), Marianne Barnard in that same month (aged 10 in 1975), and French actor Valentine Monnier in November 2019 (aged 18 in 1975). Although Lewis’ accounts were largely rejected due to her 6-month affair with Polanski following the alleged attack, the consistency of Polanski’s predatory behaviour on children is beyond concerning. Monnier, being aged 18 at the time of her rape, had a particularly violent account and wrote in an open letter, triggered by the release of J’Accuse, that “I thought I was going to die”. All of this makes the alleged oral, vaginal, and anal rape with the use of drugs of Geimer in 1977, despite her telling him “no” repeatedly, a part of a larger pattern that needs to be taken seriously.
No writer enjoys describing these dark realities; words like “rape” and “drugging” are hard-hitting and uncomfortable. Yet these words do not reflect even a fraction of the pain that these women had to endure, and tiptoeing around the shocking reality of these experiences only perpetuates the cycle of denial and normalisation. Polanski, now aged 86, has avoided justice for 42 years and his nerve to appropriate the injustice that Dreyfus’ story symbolises reflects just how invulnerable these men are. Polanski, Weinstein and others like them may claim that their lives are ruined by these allegations, yet they continue to win awards and be venerated as geniuses as we are urged to separate the art from the artist. Whilst these men are protected due to their “contributions” to society, their victims are contested on their every sentence. The clothing which they wore at the time of the attack is scrutinised. Their relationships with these powerful men following their abuse are used against them. The consistent and continual failure to hold these men to account, as they spend decades not facing the consequences of their actions, is a punch in the gut to the #MeToo movement and sends a message to any victim that our words do not matter. Our experiences do not matter. Our trauma does not matter. All of this which the victims of Roman Polanski and others carry for their entire lives means nothing as long as the rest of the world gets to enjoy a guilt-free two hours of cinema in the name of “art”.