The Blog

Perpetuating Rape Culture: Polanski and the Privileges of 'Fame'

This separation of male violence from the men who commit the crimes is a key feature of rape culture. It silences victims whilst simultaneously creating a hierarchy of abusers with Roman Polanski being a "good" abuser becausewon him some Oscars.

The British Film Institute is currently running a retrospective on the films of Roman Polanksi. He arguably deserves to be recognised as one of the great directors for films such as Rosemary's Baby, Tess and The Pianist, for which he won the Oscar for Best Director and received a standing ovation. As is well known, Polanski could not collect his Oscar because of the small matter of his criminal conviction for unlawful sex with a minor; a charge stemming from 1977.

Polanski gave a 13 year old girl a qualude in champagne and then orally, vaginally and anally raped her. Polanski is a convicted child rapist who fled the US because he did not want to go to prison.

Yet, somehow, Polanski's conviction for unlawful sex with a minor is frequently elided from press attention of his films or, if it is mentioned, it is minimized because Polanski is an 'artiste.' Whoopi Goldberg famously suggested it wasn't "rape-rape" , as if there is a hierarchy of good rape versus bad rape wherein good rapists can't really be rapists if they make good films.

Now, the British Film Institute has joined in with the minimisation of Polanski's crime by running a retrospective of his work without ever mentioning the fact that he is also a convicted child rapist. When questioned on their decision on their Facebook page, they responded with this:

Showing these films has been planned for over 18 months, mindful of Polanski's 1977 US conviction. The BFI takes its responsibility to audiences very seriously and we fully appreciate that recent events have heightened awareness, however, our focus is not on the director, but the films, none of which are autobiographical or reflective of Polanski's conviction. We recognise the important contribution Polanski's films make to world cinema and film culture and we want to ensure that new audiences get the opportunity to see them on the big screen. By presenting his films in this way the BFI is not condoning or making any judgment on Polanski's personal past history.

Yep, by showing Polanski's films, the BFI are "not condoning or making any judgment on Polanski's personal past history" and the only reason anyone could possibly be raising this as an issue is because "recent events have heightened awareness." By this, I assume they mean the numerous investigations into child sexual violence and rape in light of the Jimmy Savile allegations. The BFI seem to be implying that there would be no controversy over a retrospective on Polanski's art had it not been for the Jimmy Savile affair.

Ryan Gilbey, the film critic for the New Statesman, best exemplifies the minimisation of the child rape perpetrated by Polanski by suggesting it was "ambiguous" and somehow no longer relevant since Polanski makes "great films." He went so far as to suggest it was "historic" as if raping a child is forgivable if one did it a long time ago, even if the perpetrator fled the jurisdiction. This separation of male violence from the men who commit the crimes is a key feature of rape culture. It silences victims whilst simultaneously creating a hierarchy of abusers with Roman Polanski being a "good" abuser because The Piano won him some Oscars.

The 'he's an artiste' defense arises every time these issues are raised and it remains utter garbage. Being an "artiste" has never been an acceptable excuse for an adult male to abuse a child and it never should be. It doesn't matter if the 'artiste' in question is Roman Polanski or Anthony Kiedis, who writes about "having sex" with a 14 year old in his biography Scar Tissue as if this were normal behavior for an adult. Both men have had traumatised childhoods, Polanski is a Holocaust survivor whilst Kiedis is quite open about the physical and sexual abuse he experienced as a child, but these traumas cannot be used as excuses for their behaviour as adults.

The moment we condone the abuse these men commit because of their status as 'artistes' is the moment we stop holding them accountable for their crimes. It does not matter how brilliant their films are or how much we love their music. We cannot separate the art these men produce from the violence they inflict on vulnerable women and children.

There is no "ambiguity" to what Polanski did: he raped a child.

Those who seek to minimise Polanski's act of rape are just as guilty as those who ignored Jimmy Savile's sexual abuse of children.

Those who seek to minimise Polanski's act of rape are guilty of perpetrating and perpetuating rape culture.

This Saturday (2 February), the East London Feminists and the London Feminist Network have organized a protest against the Polanski Retrospective outside the BFI Southbank. This is the official statement from the East London Feminists:

In light of the recent investigation into Jimmy Savile I think it is disgusting that the BFI has decided to hold a retrospective of a child abuser. I think it speaks volumes about the culture in which we live that the BFI, a supposed British institution, sees no problem in celebrating the work of a paedophile who has been on the run from the US government for 35 years. I couldn't stand by and let this go unmarked. It speaks of how little importance our culture puts on sexual crimes against women and the complete lack of respect it has for women that people can so easily separate the crime from the rapist.

The Protest starts at 1:30 in advance of a 2:40 showing of Tess. During the filming of Tess, the then 43 year old director began a "sexual relationship" with the 15 year old star Natassja Kinski which, in and of itself, is equally problematic.

Whilst I can not attend, I will be there in spirit with my sisters holding a convicted child rapist responsible for his crimes despite most of Hollywood deciding that being an 'artiste' is more important than holding an adult male accountable for giving a 13 year old child a qualude in champagne and then raping her.

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