Why did Polanski’s celebration cause so much controversy?

On February 28th, the prestigious César du Cinéma (the French equivalent of the Academy Awards or the BAFTAs) were held in Paris, gathering the crème de la crème of French cinema. The night was highly awaited as Roman Polanski’s film J’Accuse was competing with 12 nominations despite the controversy surrounding the director in the wake of the #MeToo movement. When Polanski was awarded the coveted “Best Director” award many audience members were seen leaving the room to protest Polanski’s victory. But why did it cause such a stir?

A bit of history

For those who aren’t familiar with cinema, Roman Polanski is a Polish-French director who eventually left Poland due to the rise of Nazism and anti-semitism, relocating to the United States where he started a film career with the infamous Rosemary’s Baby in 1968. There, he met the tragically famous Sharon Tate, who would later be brutally murdered by the Manson cult while expecting Polanski’s baby. The death impacted the director who hated the sensationalism after his wife’s death.

8 years later, in 1977, Polanski was arrested for the sexual assault of 13 year old Samantha Gailey who he had drugged and raped during a photoshoot. After years of trials, Polanski fled to Paris escaping American justice. He is to this day still forbidden from entering American territory and is targeted by an Interpol red issue asking for his arrest. Despite that, Polanski was able to continue a strong career in France and felt so secure that he laughed about his love of young girls on various talk shows knowing he was protected by a country that loves cinema.

The issue

With the recent rise of the #MeToo movement, many have asked Polanski to not receive support from the French cinema industry as to respect the dozen of women that have claimed Polanski had sexually assaulted them and not award a known paedophile / rapist. Despite all this, the French Academy granted Polanski’s latest film twelve nominations in pretty much all categories which many felt was a direct action against recent feminist movements.

On the night, his victory as Best Director angered many as the French industry wasn’t rewarding the effort made by technicians in the film but him as an individual and director. The actress Adèle Haenel, who recently opened up about her own experience with sexaul assault in the French cinema industry, immediately left the room to show her discontent and was followed by many other artists. The award was poorly received on social media as well where many were dumbfounded by the decision to reward a monster like Polanski. 

The award did feel like a personal insult aimed at recent feminist movements, a big “f- you” to all victims, a painful reminder that rapists can walk free and have a career but that reporting sexual misconduct can cost you your job. I was, like many, angered at the French industry for moving backward instead of supporting victims. We should not idolise people like Polanski, and even less reward their work. I am not calling for him to be censored, only for people to realise that supporting his work is an insult to all the people he has hurt and sexual violence victims everywhere.  

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