By Ella Rowe-Hall
Anyone with their eye on the news would be aware of the recent Roman Polanski ripple within the media, due to his recent award won at the French Cesars Awards for best director regarding his film J’accuse. His award announcement, the last 40 years of his career, haven’t exactly been plain sailing for Polanski.
1977 is the the year in which Polanski’s career and reputation began its decline. This self- tarnishing leaves many unsympathetic, given it being of his own accord due to him drugging and rape of 13-year-old Samantha Gailey. Initially meant to receive a 90-day prison time before his final sentencing, Polanski appealed and was rewarded a 90-day probationary period in order to finish his current work. Arguably, and quite justifiably, this begs to question the acts of the legal profession, apparently prioritising art over the justice of a vulnerable victim – begging to question whether any one person’s art is worth more than their sexual abuse.
Effectively due to his high status within the film industry, as well as his French- Polish nationality, he retreated to France and has never been held accountable for the crimes in which he confessed. Although Polanski has never returned to the global film hub of Hollywood, his career’s seemingly still flourishing following his win at the Cesars Awards.
Having said this, his win was certainly not without backlash; as the video of actress Adèle Haenel storming out of the awards quickly went viral. Haenel sarcastically says ‘bravo paedophilia’, challenging the sexual abuse issues surrounding Polanski, as well as the film industry itself, as Haenel was also sexually abused by a director aged just 12. Haenel was not alone in this protest, as several other actors left the ceremony, whilst the ceremony host refused to return to stage; showing the world that not only is the abuse shockingly widespread, as is the protests of those fighting sexual abuse and the film industries approach to it. Yet, just how rife is this issue? Polanski’s primary rape case and following controversial legal injustice is just the first of at least two victims. Actress Charlotte Lewis claimed he forced her to have sex in order to be cast in Pirates when she was just 16.
Upon delving into the world of film industry sexual abuse, it’s entirely shocking and outrageous the number of allegations, accusations and sexual abuse stories you can encounter.
Arguably one of the most prominent sexual abuse scandals within the film industry, certainly today, is of Harvey Weinstein. More than 50 women have made allegations regarding Weinstein’s sexual abuse to former assistants and actresses. The two most prominent cases are the sexual assault of his former production assistant Mimi Haleyi in 2006, as well as the rape of aspiring actress Jessica Mann in 2013 – both of which he was convicted of February 2020 in New York. This news comes after he was charged with rape in Los Angeles of January this year also, truly highlighting the number of victims Weinstein has amassed. Though Polanski has fewer victims than Weinstein, it’s clear they’re disgraced in the eyes of many women and like-minded men, abusing their power to prey on innocent girls and women for decades. Both men were protected within the industry for so long due to this power, as well as the taboo topic of sexual abuse and their rich, predominantly white and male status within society.
Having said this, not all sexual abusers are white, nor are all victims’ women. Bill Crosby presents an example of sexual abuse conducted by a BAME citizen, as his power and high status within the film and TV industry likely delayed him from receiving immediate repercussions for abusing over 60 women throughout the decades.
A prominent male victim is Brooklyn Nine-Nine actor Terry Crews, claiming his then-agent Adam Venit sexually assaulted Crews as a means to emasculate and dis-empower him. Though the case was only settled, Venit was forced to retire. Crew’s actions in speaking up echo an often-overlooked voice regarding male sexual abuse victims, which he empowers, as he joined many others in the #MeToo movement.
Regardless of sexual abuse being a considerably volatile/sensitive topic, the phrase ‘knowledge is power’ generally springs to mind. The prominence and visibility of the #MeToo movement has encouraged countless numbers of celebrities and the general public to address the sexual abuse issue of today, shining a light on just how many people it affects, especially within the film industry. Furthermore, the power of word of mouth encourages people’s awareness and channels the fire for moral and legal justice, as seen particularly regarding Weinstein and Cosby. Moreover, the unveiled global sexual abuse victims highlight the pain endured and implicated by men in positions of power, but such unification reiterates that one man’s creative genius should not and is not an excuse for sexual abuse unaccountability and lack of justice being served. While we cannot remedy victims’ pain, our challenges and protests could help lessen the suffering and stigma. Hopefully preventing more men and women from enduring this very same abuse in the future.
So, to Roman Polanski, and all the other Roman Polanski’s out there: we see you; and actions speak louder than words. Louder than your films, louder than your songs and louder than you.
The bigger you are, the harder you fall and justice is coming for you.