Academy Award-winning film director Roman Polanski has had a turbulent life, and that’s not considering the last 31 years he has been living as a fugitive of California state law.
Polanski’s troubles started long before he pleaded guilty to having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977 and subsequently fled the United States a year later to live in exile in France. He’s had to endure many traumatic events, including his mother’s death at the hands of the Nazis, his escape from a concentration camp and the murder of his pregnant wife Sharon Tate by the Manson Family in 1969.
The director, whose films include Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby was finally arrested in Zurich, Switzerland on Sept. 26 for unlawful sex with a minor — a criminal charge he admitted to years ago — while on his way to attend an award ceremony.
It appears now, after his prolonged arrest, that Polanski may indeed come face-to-face with the trouble he has been avoiding for decades; he may be extradited to Los Angeles, where he will face charges of statutory rape.
In the years since the rape took place, the victim, Samantha Geimer, reached a private settlement with the director and vocalized her wishes that all charges against Polanski be dropped.
This stipulation, as well as the time period in which the director has been living and working as a fugitive, has prompted quite a debate over exactly how Polanski’s case should be handled. As a result, the director has many supporters, but also a great deal who oppose him.
Several prominent Hollywood figures such as Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen and Harvey Weinstein have all aligned in protest, which includes the signing of a petition that states, “Filmmakers in France, in Europe, in the United States and around the world are dismayed by this decision.”
Hollywood is not the only outlet expressing concern and support for Polanski. Members of the French and Polish governments have also made their defense of the director quite prominent. Polanski’s colleagues and admirers have stressed the notion of his arrest as a deliberate attack on the artist that should, after more than 30 years, be put to rest.
The director’s opposition certainly does not have the overwhelming star power that his defense does, but it is making just as much noise as Polanski’s supporters.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, which issued the warrant for Polanski’s arrest, as well as many feminist groups and several Hollywood players — most of who have stayed somewhat silent in their opinions — are among many who seek justice for the crime Polanski committed years ago.
Many believe the overall debate merely concerns the treatment of Polanski now and during the last 30 years, with no regard for the crime he committed. The crime itself has been taken aside to make room for the director’s reputation and presence around the world. It is this very fact that many who oppose Polanski find utterly disturbing.
While Hollywood and other European filmmakers believe the charges to be nothing more than “a so-called crime,” according to Weinstein, many others believe the director’s possible acquittal to be a blatant disregard of moral values and established laws.
The basic concern: How far can celebrities go to avoid legal incrimination? Many see a dismissal of Polanski’s charges as a solidification of the power of celebrity.
The troubling part is that this heated debated may be difficult to put to rest. The US Department of Justice has up to 60 days to request an extradition and, if Polanski refuses, the legal proceedings could easily continue for months.
He has continued to direct films, most notably 2002’s The Pianist, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Director. He did not attend the ceremony, but still received a modest-sized standing ovation.
He also has a new film in production, but its future, like Polanski’s, is also now very uncertain.
As one side asks why now, after 30 years, others express satisfaction for an arrest finally taking place. No matter what happens with his case, it is certain Polanski will, once again, not be able to avoid traumatic events.