Those of us who are fans of Emma Thompson but not fans of child rape were disappointed to learn the actress signed Bernard-Henri Lévy's petition to free Roman Polanski. But a Shakesville reader might just have changed Thompson's mind.
Last week, a reader named Caitlin e-mailed Shakesville blogmistress Melissa McEwan — who had written about being heartbroken by Thompson's decision to sign — with a proposal. Caitlin is a student at Exeter University, where Thompson was scheduled to speak last night, and knew she'd have the opportunity to meet the actor. In her e-mail, Caitlin wrote: "I have set up a petition online, in the hopes that I can hand her a list of names and comments next week from the online community (and my own university, hopefully) showing our dismay at her decision to sign the Roman Polanski petition."
The petition got 410 signatures and numerous comments, which Caitlin brought to her meeting with Thompson last night. In a follow-up e-mail to Shakesville, Caitlin writes:
Emma did not have much time between meetings, but she gave me all of the time that she had. I asked her why she had signed the petition, and she explained about how well she knows Polanski, how terrible his life has been, and how forgiving the survivor of the rape all those years ago now is. She said she thought the intentions of the judge were unclear, as were the intentions of those who arrested him recently. She told me that a lot of her friends had rung her up asking her to sign the petition, so there had been a certain amount of pressure. She said that she had already been thinking a lot about the petition, as others had expressed their dismay at her signing it.
I handed her our petition and the comments. She read them both through thoroughly, and came back to me. She said, while she supported Polanski as a friend, a crime is a crime. I don't know whether she had realised the extent of Polanski's crime, but she is now fully aware. She will remove her name from the petition – in fact, she said she would call today and sort it out. Even though, she stressed, Polanski has had some truly terrible experiences in his lifetime, experiences that we couldn't even imagine and which should not be taken out of the equation, she agreed that she could not put her name to a petition asking for his release.
Assuming that she will be true to her word, her name will be removed in the very near future. Hopefully the press will pick up on it.
She left me with this, to pass on to everyone who has signed the petition/raised awareness of this issue: "Know that I will remove my name because of you, and all of the good work that you have been doing. I have read your petition. I have heard you. And I will listen."
If she follows through, hooray for Thompson — and either way, hooray for Caitlin, who had the guts to use a brief meeting with a celebrity to do what many of us have wanted to over the last month: Ask what the fuck went through her head before she signed. And it sounds like the usual — he's suffered, he's charming, the victim wants it dropped, judicial shenanigans, all the cool kids are signing — minus any thought of what he actually did to the victim in 1977, before fleeing the country. Lévy conveniently left any mention about that out of his petition, but Caitlin did not. And that information is rather crucial to making a decision about whether to call for leaving poor old Polanski alone. I've been wondering the whole time how many of his supporters have taken a good look at it, and how many just got a phone call saying, "It's a witch hunt — sign this" and agreed.
Here's hoping not only that Thompson makes that call, but that her change of heart gets enough real media attention for other celebrity signatories of the Free Polanski petition to think twice about who and what, exactly, they agreed to stand up for.
Emma Update [Shakesville]
Related: Polanski Business: In Which Emma Thompson Breaks My Heart [Shakesville]
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