Content warning: this article addresses rape and sexual abuse against children.
“Well done, pedophilia” echoed in the halls of the Salle Pleyel, the words chanted by French actress Adèle Haenel as she stormed out of the 2020 Césars after Roman Polanski won best director for “An Officer and a Spy.” Haenel, a nominee for her role in “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” who shared that she was sexually abused by French directors in her childhood, had previously expressed her disgust with Polanski’s nominations in an interview with The New York Times.
“Distinguishing Polanski is spitting in the face of all victims … It means raping women isn’t that bad,” Haenel said.
She was not alone in her walkout that evening, as Céline Sciamma, a best director nominee for “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” followed as Haenel shouted “shame!” Actress, comedian and host of this year’s Césars, Florence Foresti, also began the show by welcoming “predators” in the audience and did not return to the stage after Polanski’s directing win to finish her hosting duties, claiming that she was “disgusted” on Instagram.
Polanski’s 12 nominations for the Césars come at the same time as his sixth sexual abuse allegation. In 1997, at the age of 43, Polanski plead guilty to drugging and raping 13-year-old Samantha Jane Gailey and promptly fled the United States after his conviction, beginning his life as a fugitive in his native France. If the name Roman Polanski sounds familiar for a different reason, it’s likely because of his connection to his deceased spouse Sharon Tate, who was murdered in their home by followers of Charles Manson. While Tate’s murder has nothing to do with his confirmed record of sexual abuse and the public outrage that followed it, Polanski claimed in his film notes for “An Officer and a Spy” that the public backlash against him stemmed from this event.
“The way people see me, my ‘image,’ did indeed start to form with Sharon Tate’s death,” Polanski said. “It is like a snowball, each season adds another layer. Absurd stories by women I have never seen before in my life who accuse me of things which supposedly happened more than half a century ago.”
Polanski wasn’t the only subject of public outcry this week over an industry that protects and celebrates known abusers. Harvey Weinstein was recently sentenced to 23 years in Rikers Island Prison for first-degree criminal sexual act and third-degree rape. Furthermore, publishing house Hachette Book Group dropped Woody Allen’s memoir after Allen’s son, Ronan Farrow, ignited walkout protests earlier this week. Renowned horror writer Stephen King took to Twitter to respond to the publisher’s choice to drop Allen’s book.
“The Hachette decision to drop the Woody Allen book makes me very uneasy. It’s not him; I don’t give a damn about Mr. Allen. It’s who gets muzzled next that worries me,” King wrote.
American journalist Ed Bott responded to the tweet and King maintained his position.
“‘First they came for the pedophiles’ is NOT A THING, sir,” Bott tweeted.
“If you think he’s a pedophile, don’t buy the book. Don’t go to his movies. Don’t go listen to him play jazz at the Carlyle. Vote with your wallet … by withholding it. In America, that’s how we do,” King wrote in response.
Polanski held a similar stance in his statement for why he would not be attending the Césars to accept his awards, announcing that he feared a “public lynching” and that he and his team “know how this evening will unfold already.”
The problem that King and Polanski fail to see is that it doesn’t matter how many people boycott an abuser’s work, because if Polanski’s wins (the most of any recipient that evening) are any indication: this industry thrives on contention and on the guarantee that there will always be people willing to separate art from the artist, no matter how heinous the crime. I’m sorry, convicted abusers, but you are most certainly not the victim here, nor are you at risk of being one.
The most fascinating part of all of this is that Allen and Polanski have both come out to criticize Weinstein’s actions and have blamed him for the backlash they have received in recent years. Allen called Weinstein a “sad, sick man” in 2017, despite the fact that he was accused of molesting his daughter Dylan Farrow, and later marrying his adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn. Polanski followed in 2019, claiming that the media was “making [him] a monster,” and it was Weinstein’s fault.
“It was him who dug up my case with Samantha Geimer from 26 years before which no one was interested in any more,” Polanski said.
“Interested in” is a telling word choice, because it is clear that the #MeToo movement is simply a media setback to these proven abusers. But, it’s clear that if you wait it out for a couple of years, you too could have your film featured at international festivals and win a few Academy Awards while you’re at it.
The only reason you should be afraid is if you have actually done something wrong. And even so, you may be able to experience a perfectly successful career, much like the aforementioned men. I, for one, will not be satisfied until I stop seeing their names on nomination lists. Until then, we should extend our compassion to the true victims of these heinous acts of violence: the young people who were groomed, assaulted and raped by Hollywood’s biggest names.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 6, 2020 e-print edition. Email Samaa Khullar at [email protected]