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article imageOp-Ed: Polanski Fate Debate Turning into Full-Blown Culture War

By Johnny Simpson     Sep 30, 2009 in Entertainment
Actors, directors, pundits and French officials have demanded Roman Polanski's release. On the other side of the debate, majority public sentiment in both the US and France favors Polanski's extradition to justice. Passions are running high on both sides.
If one thing is becoming clear regarding the debate over what the ultimate fate of Roman Polanski should be, it's that the only middle ground is a withering and hostile no-man's land. You all know the story by now, or should. Famed filmmaker Roman Polanski, the director of such renowned Oscar-winning films as Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown and The Pianist, was arrested in Switzerland last week on a 31-year-old US felony warrant for drugging and committing statutory rape and sodomy on a 13-year-old girl at actor Jack Nicholson's home in Los Angeles in 1977. He now sits in a Swiss jail awaiting extradition proceedings. The US government has 60 days to respond. The Swiss judge in the case stated that Mr. Polanski would be held without bail during that time and refrained from further comment, stating that the case was ongoing. Mr. Polanski's lawyers had requested that he be remanded to his chalet in Gstaad under house arrest. Should he be extradited back to the US, Polanski, now 76, faces a prison sentence of up to fifty years.
The response from Mr. Polanski's supporters, particularly filmmakers and actors both foreign and domestic, was immediate and negative in the extreme. Over 100 filmmakers, actors and actresses worldwide have condemned the arrest and signed a petition demanding Mr. Polanski's immediate release. Among the signatories are Hollywood film directors Martin Scorsese, Michael Mann, David Lynch, Mike Nichols, Jonathan Demme, Terry Gilliam and Woody Allen, producer Harvey Weinstein and actress Tilda Swinton.
Yet support for Mr. Polanski is far from universal, even among creative artists. The Directors' Guild of America has remained silent on the issue, though director and recently elected DGA President Taylor Hackford is among the petition's signatories. Renowned French director Luc Besson has refused to sign the petition, stating that "no one is above the law." Sherri Shepherd of The View and singer-songwriter Jewel have been outspoken in their condemnation of Mr. Polanski's crimes.
Likewise, the response by the American public in the case has been decidedly harsh and overwhelmingly in favor of imprisoning Mr. Polanski for his crimes, to which he had already pled guilty in a Los Angeles court in 1978. Many US news and opinion blogs are now running straw polls of their readers as to whether Mr. Polanski should be prosecuted or exonerated. In an poll asking readers the question, "Should Roman Polanski be prosecuted?" the answer was a resounding 88% in favor of, 9% against and 1% undecided. 75% of DebatePolitics readers polled also favor Mr. Polanski's prosecution. A New York Daily News poll reveals that 74% of respondents support Mr. Polanski's extradition to the US to face justice.
Even in France, where Mr. Polanski enjoys dual French-Polish citizenship, public opinion is now running high in favor of Mr. Polanski's extradition to face justice in the US. As Digital Journal's Andrew Moran and the New York Times recently reported, high-ranking officials in European governments, most prominently in France, were quick to publicly condemn Mr. Polanski's arrest by the Swiss and call for his release. However, as the Times also reported, the mood is now shifting among those same French officials. According to a poll of over 30,000 readers conducted by the French daily Le Figaro, more than 70% of respondents believe Mr. Polanski should be deported to the US to face justice. The French magazine Le Point reports that it has received over 400 letters that reflect a near-universal disdain for Mr. Polanski.
There also appears to be a domestic public backlash swelling against those who have expressed their support for Mr. Polanski's release. Oscar-winning actress Whoopi Goldberg's recent statement on The View, to wit that Mr. Polanski's crime wasn't "rape"-rape, has been widely condemned from as diverse a variety of sources as Salon and Newsweek to the Jezebel celebrity website to Breitbart's Big Hollywood blog. Earlier today, movie critic Christian Toto posted an oped at Big Hollywood entitled "HuffPo Goes All In to Defend Polanski, Readers Revolt," in which Mr. Toto elaborates on three separate opinion pieces by pundits at the Huffington Post who sympathize with Mr. Polanski's plight, and side with the petitioners seeking his release. Those posts have generated overwhelmingly negative comments from HuffPo readers.
That trend of largely negative public responses to posts sympathetic to Mr. Polanski can be also found aplenty at Vanity Fair, the Los Angeles Times, the Gawker Defamer Hollywood news site, even the Daily KOS blog, where a straw poll of readers asking the question "Does Polanski deserve to go to jail?" reveals that 59% of respondents answered an unqualified "yes." Only 22% of respondents in the Daily KOS poll answered an unequivocal "no." 11% of respondents said "maybe," and 8% had no opinion.
Amazingly, and unlike many other polarizing issues that have been consuming Americans for so long now, this particular heated debate over the fate of Roman Polanski does not appear to fall along the standard ideological lines of Right and Left. The majority of commenters at both FOX News and the Huffington Post have been near-universal in their condemnation of Mr. Polanski's criminal actions in 1977, and vehement in their opinions that he should pay for his crimes regardless of present circumstances. Even at HuffPo itself, fierce battle lines are being drawn in the Polanski War. You can catch them all at HuffPo's new Roman Polanski page. Passions are running quite high between the pundits there, too.
Director/writer Woody Allen
Director/writer Woody Allen
by David Shankbone
Lastly, besides Whoopi Goldberg, the celebrity catching the brunt of the public's bad feelings in this matter is Hollywood director and Polanski petition signatory Woody Allen, who was embroiled in a similar scandal involving Allen's longtime partner Mia Farrow and her adopted Korean daughter Soon-Yi Previn, to whom Mr. Allen is now married. A lot of that negative commentary and opining on Woody Allen's support of Mr. Polanski has been derogatory at best and obscene at worst. The Monsters and Critics blog post, "In US, Polanski Reps Battle Hostile Public," also elaborates on the uphill battle Polanski supporters face in the US as they present their case to an American public hostile and unsympathetic to Mr. Polanski's plight.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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