Roman Polanski -- An Examination of Celebrity Justice
Although I am hardly a fanatic follower of celebrities, especially “Showbiz Tonight,” that venerable institution said something about Hollywood stars taking sides in the debate of what they think should happen next with Roman Polanski.
In case you were sleeping the past few weeks, the famous film director was arrested during a trip to Switzerland and has been incarcerated awaiting extradition to the US for a 30 year old warrant for having had sex with a minor. Polanski was convicted and skipped the country, and has been living in Paris since then.
Latest news seems to be that the Oscar-winning auteur is considering returning to this country to argue his case.
There was quite a lot of publicity when the director was arrested Sept. 26. Both legal and celebrity communities were on all TV channels and giving interviews to the press with their opinions of what should happen in this case.
A very sincere sounding and looking Lisa Kudrow said the rights of underage girls should be protected. I cannot argue with that one. They flashed on the screen the names of some stars who had apparently spoken in favor of Mr. Polanski, including Pierce Brosnan and Ewen MacGregor; but no details of their statements. Statements on voice mail from interested Americans to news and gossip shows seemed to favor putting this man behind bars.
Fame does not equal justice. Maybe the earthquake all the way over in Indonesia that happened coincidentally that same day comes from the Founding Fathers of our venerated U.S.A rolling in their graves.
As a psychiatrist who was worked the prison system, I decided to try to find out what was going on, and found this article.
So now we know, courtesy of a New York tabloid, that David Wells, a former Los Angeles prosecutor, got some kind of publicity fever and expanded his role in this case when he made a statement in the documentary “Roman Polanski; Wanted and Desired.” This prosecutor admitted his lie easily, taking pride that he “cut to the chase,” and apparently promoted the idea of prosecutorial misconduct which led to lesser charges. He did, apparently, advise the judge to send Mr. Polanski to prison, and seems to have somehow lied in that process. He excused this behavior by saying he thought the documentary would air in France and not the United States. Not only are French people at least as smart as Americans, they deserve the truth as much as Americans do.
I checked out the documentary, and saw the prosecutor telling how he showed the presiding judge (Laurence Rittenband, now deceased) a photo of Polanski — who the judge had granted a 90-day stay to finish filming a movie in Europe before sending him to prison — partying at an Oktoberfest gala in Germany. In the film, Polanski had a beer mug in his hand, some pretty girls sitting at the table with him, and a smile on his face. A big smile.
Polanski looked like he was living it up — with young girls — in Europe instead of working, and the press exposure embarrassed the judge (who is portrayed as a publicity hound in the documentary). So the Judge decided to “do something” to look tough revoke the film director’s stay of incarceration and summon him back to the USA to throw him in prison.
If you are interested in the documentary, be forewarned that it is more about the courtroom wheeling and dealing than about child molestation.
Whatever the issue is here, the issue most assuredly is not guilt or innocence or childhood molestation. The victim — now grown up, obviously, has forgiven Polanski and moved on with her life. In fact, she feels that the courts and the police and the press have done more damage to her than Polanski did.
Whatever her attitude or coping skills, childhood molestation is a crime that evokes emotional responses in all of us. Even among those imprisoned and patients whom I have treated, I have seen the way those convicted of child molestation are treated by other prisoners. Their time is exceedingly hard time, sometimes with measures needing to be taken for their own protection, ranging from temporary solitary confinement to transfers to other institutions. It is hard to imagine a person who has had public acclaim and privilege being in that most difficult situation.
The real problem here, in any account that I can find, is that fame has perverted justice. It seems as if everybody involved could have and probably did somehow bend the truth in order to receive some fame. Andy Warhol famously said that, one day, we all would be famous for 15 minutes. It seems as if some judges and prosecutors and movie makers and others have somehow extended their 15 minutes. Our concern is very far removed from the crime victim, who is doing fine. The concern is what fame or talent mean in the face of a crime committed, a robbing of innocence.
It has been said that Mr. Polanski could not get a fair trial in America and that may be the case. Maybe the publicity has contorted things beyond recognition. If so, should he have a trial elsewhere? I don’t know the statutes of limitations or anything about what his life has been like since this incident, so I cannot even suggest a clear resolution. I can only suggest an ideal, an ideal that should be reaffirmed. Anybody who commits a crime deserves to be treated fairly, without distortions of the truth by fame seekers. I remember hearing a while ago something about how people in prison ought not to profit directly from publicity about themselves, books and media and such, and thinking that was the essence of a fairness to which we may only be able to aspire.
Let’s keep aspiring.
Maybe we will be able, in the future, to try people on other planets.
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