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Hollywood's Shame

By Eugene Robinson
Friday, October 2, 2009

Could it be that the conservative culture warriors who portray Hollywood as a cesspool of moral bankruptcy have been right all along? Not really. But in the case of Roman Polanski, the puritan scolds definitely have a point.

Even the French government has backed off its defense of the fugitive director. Polanski, who has dual French-Polish citizenship, fled the United States in 1978 before he could be sentenced on a charge of unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl in Los Angeles. He spent the past three decades mostly in France, and officials in Paris reacted angrily when he was nabbed in Switzerland at the Zurich airport. In more recent statements, however, French leaders have taken a much more measured position, saying that justice should run its course.

But some of Hollywood's most prominent luminaries contend that Polanski's crime -- which he acknowledged in a guilty plea -- really wasn't so awful. Or that maybe it was a big deal at the time, but now we should let bygones be bygones. Or that maybe it's still a big deal, but whatever sins Polanski may have committed are outweighed by the brilliance of his art.

More than 100 movie-business heavyweights -- including directors Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Mike Nichols and Pedro Almod?var -- have signed a petition calling on Swiss authorities to set Polanski free. Piling chutzpah upon gall, Woody Allen is among the petitioners. You will recall that Allen shocked non-Hollywood sensibilities by acknowledging his romance with Soon-Yi Previn, the daughter of Allen's longtime companion, Mia Farrow. At the time, Allen was 56 and Previn was 21.

Actress, comedian and "The View" co-host Whoopi Goldberg has come under well-justified fire for making a jaw-dropping statement about Polanski's crime: "I know it wasn't rape-rape. I think it was something else, but I don't believe it was rape-rape."

Really? The Web site http://thesmokinggun.com has posted the victim's grand jury testimony and Polanski's admission of guilt. Although a plea bargain reduced the charges to unlawful sex with a minor, the documents make clear that what the victim alleged was "rape-rape" of the vilest kind.

She described being lured by Polanski to the home of actor Jack Nicholson, given champagne and half a quaalude, feeling intoxicated and frightened, being groped in a hot tub, telling Polanski to stop, being accosted on a couch, telling Polanski again to stop, being violated in ways I can't describe in a family newspaper, and finally weeping as she waited for her assailant to take her home.

Was Polanski filled with remorse? Not when the British novelist Martin Amis interviewed him in 1979. "If I had killed somebody, it wouldn't have had so much appeal to the press, you see?" Polanski told Amis. "But . . . [having sex], you see, and the young girls. Judges want to [have sex with] young girls. Juries want to [have sex with] young girls. Everyone wants to [have sex with] young girls!"

I've had no choice but to bleach the color out of Polanski's language. For "having sex," he used an Anglo-Saxon vulgarity that I couldn't even think about printing in a family newspaper.

Movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, who has been circulating the pro-Polanski petition, wrote in an op-ed in the Independent, a London newspaper, that "whatever you think about the so-called crime, Polanski has served his time. A deal was made with the judge, and the deal is not being honored. . . . This is the government of the United States not giving its word and recanting on a deal, and it is the government acting irresponsibly and criminally."

So the government is to blame? For apprehending an unrepentant sex offender who fled before being sentenced for his reprehensible acts?

The Los Angeles Times quoted Weinstein as saying in an interview that he doesn't believe public opinion is running against Polanski -- or that Hollywood is out of step. "Hollywood has the best moral compass, because it has compassion," Weinstein said, according to the newspaper. "We were the people who did the fundraising telethon for the victims of 9/11. We were there for the victims of Katrina and any world catastrophe."

Hollywood was there, all right, whenever the tragedy was distant, the victims were anonymous and the "compassionate" concert or telethon had acceptable production values that made all the stars look their best. How heroically they rearranged their busy schedules!

The brutalization of one young girl, it seems, leaves Hollywood's big heart awfully cold.

eugenerobinson@washpost.com

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