Roman Polanski and the #MeToo Movement in France: Is This All for Nothing?

March 17, 2020

In 2003, when Roman Polanski won the Academy Award for Best Director for his film The Pianist, he was met with thunderous applause and a standing ovation, even from long time #MeToo activist Meryl Streep. Despite what the whole of the film industry knew of Roman Polanski’s history of sexual assault, he was still given massive approval by his peers. Granted, The Pianist is a masterpiece of cinematic achievement, but his win created discussion about how far we can separate the art from the artist when they commit atrocious acts. Yes, Hollywood and the majority of the film industry has moved away from Polanski now by voting to expel him from the Academy in 2018 and the emergence of the #MeToo movement resurrecting his history of sexual misconduct. However, his recent win for directing J’accuse at The César Awards has left a sour taste in the mouths of a lot of film industry peers, with many walking out of the ceremony in disgust. Even though he is now condemned by much of the industry, he continues to be awarded and given approval. What does this mean for the #MeToo movement and victims of sexual assault, who are still seeing perpetrators rewarded and placed on a pedestal? Has the #MeToo movement actually achieved its goal of holding perpetrators accountable for their actions, or has their quest been fruitless? 

 

The public outing of Harvey Weinstein as a sexual predator in 2017 was the catalyst behind numerous other sexual misconduct cases being brought to light, and the resurfacing of many older cases of sexual misconduct, so much so it has now been dubbed the ‘Weinstein effect’. The scandal was a major tipping point for how we view and treat allegations of sexual misconduct, and in some regards has been one of the biggest feminist triumphs in recent memory, as it has actually forced people to be held accountable for wrongful actions which previously would have been swept under the rug. Weinstein’s recent conviction is showing that getting away with abuse for years and years is no longer possible, as even though Weinstein is sadly in the minority of those convicted, in the court of public opinion many in the limelight have now been shunned due to misconduct allegations. Roman Polanski, however, is still the anomaly. 

 

In 1977 Roman Polanski was found guilty of unlawful intercourse with a minor, after which he fled to Europe to evade capture by the American authorities and he has not entered America since. Despite being a convicted sex offender, he has continued to release films within America and Europe, gaining critical acclaim and being rewarded five times at The Césars since 1980, the record for most awards for a director at that particular event. His win this year prompted walkouts from several prominent French movie elites like Adèle Haenel and Céline Sciamma, with the former herself being a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of a film director. It seems like a giant slap in the face to sexual abuse victims to see notorious perpetrators propped up on a pedestal, and in the entertainment industry this pedestal is especially prominent, and perpetuates the message that despite committing atrocities one can still have success and never be held fully accountable for them. In order for men like Polanski to ever be brought to justice for their actions, there has to be real institutional change, and not just within the film industry, but within all aspects of culture, particularly in Polanski’s native France. 

 

In 2019, over 100 women were killed by a current or former partner, while 220,000 women face marital violence every year: statistics which incited riots in the streets of Paris last year, with the President Emmanuel Macron pledging to do more to help initiatives that help women. Despite all of this, the French equivalent of the #MeToo movement, the #BalanceTonPorc (denounce your pig) movement, has had a significantly smaller impact on French culture as of yet, but has ignited debate about the state of France’s culture of misogyny. Sandra Muller, the creator of this movement in France, was found guilty last year of defamation, and ordered to pay €15,000 to the man she accused of sexual harassment, as well as being ordered to pay his legal fees, and to remove all posts mentioning him from her social media. The court stated in its ruling that she “surpassed the acceptable limits of freedom of expression, as her comments descended into a personal attack”. At a judicial level, women are being silenced and told their stories of assault and harassment aren’t wanting to be heard. Even acclaimed actress Catherine Deneuve and 99 other female writers and performers signed a petition which argued the effects of the feminist movement in France has gone too far, and defended the accused men stating “insistent or clumsy flirting is not a crime, nor is gallantry a chauvinist aggression”. It is clear that for violence against women to be taken seriously in the notoriously insouciant country, there must be real radical change, and I think it will take a lot more time for such change to occur in France. Whilst there is widespread disapproval of the #MeToo movement’s radical methods, the cultural impact of the Weinstein effect has been huge globally, and has started conversations about the treatment of women in all industries. 

 

Resistance is the first step to actualising real change, and with the #MeToo movement only being in its infancy, I see the future being much brighter for women in film, as well as all other industries. The conversations started by this movement have not stopped, and I do not see them stopping until their goal is reached, no matter how long into the future this may be. Whilst this vision of the future might not happen in our lifetime, these small steps to equality only serve to build a future where everyone’s stories are heard, and no longer silenced. 

 

 

Photo: Duncan C// Flickr

 

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