Is Hollywood really a hotbed of support for Roman Polanski?
With all the studio hirings and firings in the last 24 hours, I've been too busy to revisit until now one of the most wonderfully bizarre twists in the Roman Polanski case. For days on end, I've been reading stories everywhere about how the Hollywood elite has rushed to Polanski's defense, saying he should be released from custody in Switzerland, seemingly glossing over that in 1977 he gave a 13-year-old girl champagne and a Quaalude and had sex with her.
There is no disagreement about the sex. But I take issue with all the stories -- including this latest one from Wall Street Journal critic Terry Teachout -- that claim Hollywood's support of Polanski is evidence of just how out of touch the movie industry is with the rest of the world. Teachout bashes all of the "Hollywood celebrities" who have rushed to Polanski's defense, starting with Harvey Weinstein, who was quoted in a story in my paper, describing Polanski's vile conduct as a "so-called crime." Teachout rattles off the names of a host of filmmakers -- including Woody Allen, Jonathan Demme, Sam Mendes, Mike Nichols and Martin Scorsese -- who signed an international petition that "demands the immediate release of Roman Polanski."
There's only one problem: All of those filmmakers, along with Harvey Weinstein, live far, far away from Hollywood and, with occasional exceptions, make their movies outside of Hollywood as well. If you look up the rest of the names on the best-known petition in circulation, it is filled with the names of foreign filmmakers, writers and actors -- including the likes of Pedro Almodovar, Wong Kar Wai, Alfonso Cuaron, Isabelle Adjani and Salman Rushdie -- who also rarely set foot in Hollywood. If critics like Teachout want to claim that high-brow artists and writers have rushed to Polanski's defense, fair enough. But to say that Hollywood is in his corner, as part of a political argument that Hollywood is a liberal elite woefully ignorant of mainstream values, is just hogwash.
There's no petition going around with the names of the real Hollywood elite -- A-list filmmakers and studio chiefs like Steven Spielberg, Alan Horn, James Cameron, Amy Pascal, Jerry Bruckheimer, Brian Grazer, Tom Rothman, J.J. Abrams, John Lasseter or Michael Bay -- because the real Hollywood elite isn't supporting Polanski. In fact, they haven't offered the slightest hint of backing for Polanski. It's only European and New York-based artists, who clearly see the world in a very different light than the real Hollywood elite.
To that point, I'd like to let you read a lively essay from screenwriter Josh Olson, who's best known for earning an Oscar nomination for his script for "A History of Violence." In this essay, which he wrote for The Times, he makes some of the same points I've just made but in a much more personal, not to mention entertaining, fashion. He even takes the paper to task for some of our coverage. And while I think we've done an outstanding job of covering the Polanski story, I think we're always open to constructive criticism. So look at what Olson has to say -- he certainly doesn't pull any punches. Keep Reading:
by Josh Olson:
The other day the Times ran a story titled “In Roman Polanski case, is it Hollywood vs. Middle America?” by John Horn and Tina Daunt. In that Mr. Horn and Ms. Daunt seem to believe that Hollywood exists as a monolithic entity, let me answer for Hollywood. No. It’s not. And thank you for asking. Sadly, I suspect that that isn’t the answer they were looking for. They state that “Hollywood is rallying behind the fugitive filmmaker.” Well, speaking as someone who actually lives and works right in the heart of the city and the business, I can assure you that this isn’t even remotely true.
Their entire argument rests on just three things -- an incredibly poorly conceived off-the-cuff comment by Whoopi Goldberg, a petition that Harvey Weinstein is circulating, and that there isn’t a great hue and cry from Hollywood demanding that Polanski be brought to justice. I cannot speak to Ms. Goldberg’s painfully unfortunate comment, except to say that I have no doubt she didn’t mean it to come out quite the way it did. As for the lack of a hue and cry, I’m not entirely sure what we’re supposed to do.
I cannot pretend, as some have, to have spent the last thirty years gnashing my teeth at the fiend Polanski’s escape from justice, but neither can I pretend to be outraged that a convicted criminal who fled prosecution has been caught. Perhaps I missed the meeting where these things were explained, but it just never occurred to me that I was supposed to stage a rally when something happened that doesn’t bother, interest or affect me in the least.
Melissa Silverstein is quoted as saying, "I think people are afraid to talk in Hollywood. They are afraid about their next job." Well, she’s half right. We’re all scared about our next job. That’s the nature of the business. You never know where the next paycheck is coming from. What we are NOT, however, is sitting around fretting about whether or not Roman Polanski will be displeased with us if we publicly state that we think raping children is a bad thing.
As a rule, when I read the news that a fugitive from justice has been caught, my standard response is to think, “How nice,” and turn the page. If it’s a particularly interesting story, I might tell my girlfriend about it, but until this moment it never occurred to me that I was supposed to alert the media as to my feelings on the subject. It’s hard enough keeping up with all the injustice in the world. Now we have to stand up and shout every time it goes the way it’s supposed to? No offense to Ms. Silverstein, but some of us have jobs.
Then there’s Jonathan Kuntz, who’s quoted as believing “the local reaction may be a version of the ‘there, but for the grace of God, go I.’" Well, again, no, but thank you for the extremely ugly insinuation, and when DID you stop beating your wife, Mr. Kuntz? Does it occur to ANY of these people that we’re not all sitting around in a clubhouse smoking crack, patting each other on the back and hoping not to get caught molesting children?
But there’s still the elephant in the room -- the petition. (There are actually TWO petitions, but they’re both making the same point.) The major thrust of the article -- that Hollywood is completely out of touch with mainstream America, that we’re rallying behind Polanski, that we’re all a bunch of sex-crazed degenerates eager to deflower your sons and daughters pretty much rests on these petitions.
In fact, it’s those petitions that seem to be fueling all the rage around this issue right now. Because some people have expressed support for Polanski, it’s assumed the rest of us agree, else we’d have come up with our own petition. All those Hollywood types defending that awful man, and no one standing up for the other side. It’s shameful.
The problem is, it all collapses if you actually look at the petitions. So Mr. Hollywood here did just that. I took a little time off from burning flags and pushing crack to schoolchildren and did the damn work, which is more than any of the people flogging this story can claim. I do things like that from time to time, particularly when I’m being confronted with assertions that fly in the face of all reason, and especially when those assertions imply that I’m some kind of moral deviant.
Between the two petitions, there are approximately 650 signatures. Of those 650, I noted everyone who could conceivably be considered a member of the Hollywood community. My rule was, basically, if you've done substantive and recognizable work for a Hollywood studio in the last four decades, you get counted. I guarantee you, some of these people would not be thrilled to be labeled Hollywood players, but I’m trying to be accommodating to the opposition here.
You know what I was left with? You know how many of those 650 people I was able to fit into a box labeled Hollywood? Thirty-six names.
The Times refers to some of the people who signed the petition by name, and it’s the same names I’ve read in similar pieces the last day or so. They cite Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Michael Mann, Mike Nichols, Woody Allen and Neil Jordan. Well, yes. Those gentlemen do seem to be on the list. The implication, of course, is that that’s a representative sampling of the petition signers. It’s not. It’s not even representative of the thirty-six.
There are maybe eight more names on the list that come close to the level of fame and achievement those folks enjoy. The rest of the names ... well, if you’re a hard-core movie fan, as I am, you’ll probably recognize most of them. But we’re talking foreign actors and directors who’ve done a small handful of American films, a couple mid-level producers, some writers and directors who have, as far as I know, been retired for decades, a composer or two, and others of that nature. Not exactly an overwhelming mountain of support.
Nonetheless, the Times describes the signers as “More than 100 industry leaders and prominent authors." This is a profoundly deceptive statement, bordering on being an outright lie. Obviously, you’re meant to interpret that the industry being led is Hollywood, but at most, there are fifteen names on the list that could possibly be defined as industry leaders, and that’s being generous. Hell, there aren’t even 100 Americans on the list. And if there’s an industry leader among Patrick Braoudé, Dominique Crevecoeur, Jean-Yves Chalangeas, Didier Martiny, Petter Skavlan, Alejandra Norambuena Skira, or Zdzicho Augustyniak, then it is some other country’s industry, and I’m not entirely sure that industry is film.
Worse, this deceptive statement has been picked up and is spreading. At least one internet “news” source mangled it into “Over 100 Hollywood Celebs Sign Petition for Roman Polanski Release,” which isn’t even deceptive. It’s a ridiculous and bald-faced lie. But please, don’t take my word for it. The links to the petitions are below, and I urge you to take the time to do what I did.
But however you slice it, thirty six names... hell, I’ll spot you ten to compensate for my own ineptitude. FORTY six names of people who’ve worked in Hollywood is not the same thing as Hollywood, even if they all march in a straight line and speak in unison. It’s standard procedure for the entertainment media to engage in monolithic thinking. They do it every year at the Oscars, and it’s always fun to read what message we were sending via the Oscars when, really, we were all just voting for the work we thought was best, just like everyone else who watched at home with friends and wagered a buck each.
But if you HAVE to try to read some sort of monolithic movement into this petition, you might want to take it up with the French, because there’s hundreds of them on there. There’s also a significant number of Spanish petitioners. (You might want to take into account that the age of consent in Spain is 13 before you drag out the pitchforks and torches, though.) But as far as Hollywood’s concerned, we’re not rallying behind anyone, and it sure would be nice if folks could find a way of discussing this issue without creating ridiculous and childish caricatures of people who have nothing whatsoever to do with it.
Towards the end of the piece, we’re treated to this jaw-dropping bit of whimsy: “it's almost impossible to find anyone publicly condemning Polanski.” I’m compelled to point out that it’s not entirely easy finding people who support him, either. It’s so hard, in fact, that you have to do some serious number-fudging to make it look like you found any at all. And I have to wonder, did you ASK anyone? Because, as I said earlier, alerting the media that you don’t have a problem with a fugitive from justice being caught is not exactly normal behavior. That nobody does it is hardly evidence that everyone supports crime.
In the next day or so, there will be all sorts of petitions flying around town from people in response to this article, and all the other poorly reasoned anti-Hollywood rants that have arisen from this situation. Countless of my fellow filmmakers will attest to the fact that they think Polanski should be brought to America to face his punishment. It will make some difference, I’m sure, but the damage has been done. The stupid questions have already been asked, and cannot be un-asked. Anyone who doesn’t sign these petitions will now be suspect to all the lazy reporters, internet bloggers, conservative mouthpieces, and talk radio mouth-breathers who are so up in arms.
But some of us won’t sign the damn thing, because if we accede to the ludicrous demand that we sign petitions stating that it’s a good thing when wanted criminals are brought to justice, the next thing they’ll demand is that we take loyalty oaths. I don’t need to see Melissa Silverstein, Jonathan Kuntz or, frankly, ANYONE sign a petition telling me that they disapprove of molesting children. I don’t need them to swear under oath that they think it’s good for a fugitive from justice to be hauled in. I’ll take it on faith, because I assume that, in spite of their penchant for drama and their apparent need to demonize people they know nothing about, they’re mostly decent people.
It’d be lovely if they’d grant the same courtesy to me.
File photo of Roman Polanski by Roberto Pfeil / Associated Press