Salon Writer Skillfully Rebuts Roman Polanski Documentary

Two days after an L.A. judge's decision that if Roman Polanski wants to challenge his guilty plea he can return to the U.S., Salon's Bill Wyman is rebutting the 2008 HBO documentary on the director.

Wyman is quick to his point:

The film, which has inexplicably gotten all sorts of praise, whitewashes what Polanski did in blatant and subtle fashion — and recent coverage of the case, in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and elsewhere, has in turn accepted the film's contentions at face value.

Well, what Polanski pled guilty to was statutory rape, in a plea agreement that might not have allowed him to avoid jail time:

As the film shows, Polanski accepted a plea bargain and pleaded guilty to the formal felony charge of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor; he and his lawyer knew he could face prison time. Polanski also stood in front of the judge and admitted what he did and that he'd known what he was doing.

His bid to withdraw his guilty plea, in fact, is similar to what former Idaho Senator Larry Craig — better known as the toe-tapping ass-bandit of the Minneapolis Airport — was attempting to do before he was ousted from the Senate.

But Wyman goes on to point out the way filmmaker Marina Zenovich creates sympathy for Polanski:

The tone is set early on, when a friend of Polanski's tells of being woken up and informed that the director had been arrested. The moment is actually played for laughs, with interspersed shots of a worried Mia Farrow using the phone in a scene from "Rosemary's Baby."

A filmmaker attuned to the psychological undercurrents of the characters in her drama might have been conscious of the state of a 13-year-old girl, who had just been drugged and raped and had spent the next period of time at a police station reliving the incident; and shaken by the story of "Rosemary's Baby" — that, too, about a horrifically abused woman.

But the scene isn't used to illustrate the victim's story — it's about poor Roman.

He goes on to point out the following:

Here's an example: The word "sodomy" is briefly referenced in Zenovich's documentary, but it's a somewhat ambiguous term, and it's never explained. Zenovich has fun flashing bits of the victim's grand jury testimony on the screen, but she never gets around to using this exchange from that testimony, which was made public in 2003 and published by the Smoking Gun:

"Then he lifted up my legs and went in through my anus."

"What do you mean by that?

"He put his penis in my butt."

In the girl's grand jury testimony, which is slightly sickening to read, she also said that she had repeatedly told Polanski no, but that she was too afraid of him to resist.

It's a drag to include a scene of anal rape of a 13-year-old in your moody documentary about such a Byronic figure, but it's also fairly relevant.

There's more, even:

The girl told police at the time she had repeatedly told Polanski no; on the screen Zenovich runs a line to that effect from the girl's grand jury testimony, but immediately follows it with a quote from Polanski's: "She was not unresponsive." This creates a subtle he-said-she-said dynamic that, in a case in which consent isn't a issue, represents another bit of moral prestidigitation.

I mean, that's a little off — consent is at issue, since the girl said she didn't consent — it's just not at issue with Polanski's guilty plea to the lesser statutory rape charge. With statutory rape, consent isn't at issue because the victim is declared too young to make the decision. But it's worse than that, even: according to Wyman, Zenovich completely ignores the slut-shaming Polanski and his lawyers engaged in (and did a little of it herself):

In the media circus of the time, some of the European press reported that the victim hadn't been a virgin. We then get to watch as Polanski's attorney, Douglas Dalton, stands in front of a gaggle of media, Polanski nodding by his side, to say, "The facts indicate that before the alleged acts in this case the girl had engaged in sexual activity. We want to know about it, we want to know who was involved, when, we want to know why these other people were not prosecuted. It's something we want to fully develop."

A more feminist-minded director might have used her interviews with Dalton to explore some of the Neanderthal ways he was prepared to wage the case, had the director gone to trial.

Because everyone knows a slutty 13 year old would have consented!

Wyman chooses to end his take-down of the documentary with a little object lesson that celebrities might want to pay attention to:

The movie tries to drum up sympathy for Polanski by playing up the media firestorm he was at the center of; but that's Polanski's fault, too. (Before they rape children, celebrities should consider how the media attention sure to result will have adverse consequences for their victims, as well as themselves.)

That's pretty similar to something I tend to say to a friend of mine: "It's really easy to stay out of jail. Don't commit illegal acts."

Whitewashing Roman Polanski [Salon]