Are Anti-Polanski Celebs Afraid To Speak Up?

According to CNN and the L.A. Times, the backlash against celebrities supporting Roman Polanski is building, but for the most part, it's not coming from within Hollywood. Plenty of big names haven't demanded his release, but they're not talking, either.

The list of celebrities willing to publicly criticize Polanski is still pretty short, and so far, Team Child Rape Is Bad is not well-stocked with winners — when two of the biggest names are Kirstie "I wish I was black" Alley and Sherri "the earth is round?" Shepherd, we have a problem. Hell, the anti-Polanski side even lost the Little House War: Half Pint defended Polanski on The View, while we get Nellie Oleson. As it turns out, Alison Arngrim (Nellie) is one of the few actors publicly asking the obvious question about Hollywood's wagon-circling: "If Roman Polanski were a Catholic priest or a Republican senator, would these people feel the same way?"

The L.A. Times casts the tension between celebrity rape apologists and those who believe Polanski is not above the law as typical of the gulf between Hollywood liberals and "real" Americans, but Jill Filipovic at Feministe calls bullshit on that: "No, LA Times, it is not 'Hollywood vs. Middle America' in the Polanski case. It is a self-protective and sometimes tone-deaf industry against the entire rest of the country." Bingo. Can we please put a stop to this "Liberals don't care about child rape" meme? Yes, many conservatives are on the right side of this debate, but so are a whole lot of liberals who don't happen to work in the film industry. As Melissa Silverstein points out at Women & Hollywood, rape is a feminist issue. Most of us haven't forgotten that, even if Feminist Majority founder Peg Yorkin told the L.A. Times "It's crazy to arrest him now. Let it go." (The HELL, Peg Yorkin?) Eve Ensler and Katha Pollitt, off the top of my head, very much say otherwise. Not to mention pretty much every feminist blogger in existence. Hollywood doesn't speak for the left; Hollywood speaks for itself.

But what's going on with the apologism from so many, and the silence from so many more, if it's not liberalism gone mad? Well, The L.A. Times has a pretty good suggestion elsewhere in that piece. Referring back to Mel Gibson getting a pass on his anti-Semitic bullshit, John Horn and Tina Daunt write, "The criticism of Hollywood at the time was that in a business contingent on relationships and currying favor with the powerful, no one was willing to denounce such a prominent artist." Same deal here. As Silverstein told them, "I think people are afraid to talk in Hollywood. They are afraid about their next job." (Silverstein, an independent marketer of women's films, is very conscious that she's risking her own professional ass by speaking out, by the way.) When you've got people like Harvey Weinstein out there pushing the petition, bloviating about government irresponsibility and characterizing child rape as a "so-called crime," who's going to stand up to that?

People who don't work in film, people who are already well-known for their unpopular opinions, and people you've never heard of, for the most part. Otherwise, say Horn and Daunt, "It's almost impossible to find anyone [in Hollywood] publicly condemning Polanski." It's understandable, but no less disappointing for that. I like to imagine Kate Winslet and Rachel Weisz having screaming matches with their petition-signing partners at home, but I have no idea if their own failure to sign (so far) is in any way meaningful. Perhaps they're conflicted. Perhaps they're indifferent. Perhaps they just haven't gotten around to it yet. That's the benefit of silence: Nobody knows what you're thinking.

Unfortunately for rape survivors, liberals, feminists, parents, 13-year-old girls and other decent human beings dying to see some high-profile celebrities follow the French government's lead and say, "Hey, wait a minute, upon further reflection, dude committed serious crimes and is not actually above the law," that's also the enormous drawback of silence.

In Roman Polanski case, is it Hollywood vs. Middle America? [L.A. Times]
Backlash builds against support of Polanski [CNN]
For Studios, Polanski's Box Office Is the Key [NY Times]
Dissent of the Day [Daily Dish]
Does the Brotherhood of Fame Endow You With a Lifetime Exemption From Accountability? [Huffington Post]
Roman Polanski Has a Lot of Friends [The Nation]
Rape Is a Feminist Issue [Women & Hollywood]
Heartbreakers [Feministe]