Hollywood's support for Polanski backfires

Hollywood stars flock to causes. An A-list name can boost the profile of a charity, highlight a far-off tragedy or reverse a grave injustice.

So when Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski was arrested in Switzerland on the way to a film festival, it is perhaps no wonder that the great and the good of the film world rushed to plead for his freedom.

The list of supporters giving Polanski their impassioned support read like a Who's Who of the movie-making world: Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Harvey Weinstein, Pedro Almodovar and Ethan Coen.

But rather than rallying mass public support for the beleaguered film-maker - director of such undoubted classics as Chinatown, Rosemary's Baby and The Pianist - they have provoked an extraordinary backlash.

Led by a handful of outspoken female voices, a rising tide of opinion has instead applauded Polanski's arrest for unlawful sex with a 13-year-old back in 1977. They have turned the focus on the crime itself, calling the director an accused rapist who abused a child.

That, they say, should be the focus of the story and of Hollywood's ire, not defending an old man who pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with a young girl then went on the run for 32 years to avoid prison.

"Roman Polanski raped a child. Let's just start right there, because that's the detail that tends to get neglected," wrote feminist and author Kate Harding in an impassioned column in Salon.

That article went viral across the internet.

Soon editorial after editorial, from the New York Times to the smalltown Lowell Sun , followed suit, welcoming Polanski's arrest.

Already some early supporters of the director, such as actress Whoopi Goldberg, have backtracked and clarified their positions. Goldberg, in now notorious remarks, said: "I don't believe it was 'rape-rape'."

Could it be that Hollywood, whose very existence rests on accurately predicting the public's taste, has made one of its gravest misjudgments?

"The disconnect between Hollywood and the rest of the country seems enormous," said Anthony Mora, an author and founder of a Los Angeles PR firm.

There is little doubt that the case is extremely complex. In many ways both sides are dealing in black and whites, and not the shades of grey that often describe reality.

For Polanski's defenders, that has meant ignoring the act that took place in 1977 and instead focusing on judicial wrongdoings that have plagued the case and Polanski's own tragedy-tinged life. They point out that the director pleaded guilty only as part of a deal, which he then feared was being reneged upon. That is why he fled, they say.

They also refer to his past - as a Holocaust survivor and a man whose wife Sharon Tate was brutally murdered by followers of Charles Manson - as evidence that he has already borne much suffering in his life.

Finally, his sterling record as a film director is held up as evidence of why he should be celebrated as a leading artist, not arrested for a crime where even the victim has asked for him not to be pursued after such a long time.

But, as the outrage has grown, especially in the wake of Goldberg's remarks, the scale of Hollywood's misjudgment in rallying to Polanski's cause has begun to be exposed. Details of the victim's testimony in 1977 have been published and widely circulated. It makes for grim and unpleasant reading. The girl graphically described being given champagne and a Quaalude, a popular recreational drug in the 1970s, by Polanski before he had sex with her. She testified that she repeatedly said no but that he did not stop, committing numerous sexual acts as she protested.

Even some women members of Hollywood have broken ranks, as actress Kirstie Alley loudly condemned Polanski and those who defended him.

It is perhaps no surprise that the gap between Hollywood and the rest of America has grown so large on this particular case. His movies have made stars and helped them to earn millions.

Some seem to be arguing that Polanski's talent should allow him some sort of free pass for his past behaviour.

Most importantly, it has exposed a huge fault line between what Hollywood thinks of itself and what Americans think of Hollywood.

No longer is it just the right wing of America lambasting "Hollywood liberals" for their permissive and overly Democratic ways. It is Democrats too, and feminists and conservatives.

Polanski seems to have united the different strands of America in a way that few other things have.

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