Rejoice! The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences – the Academy, to you and me – proudly proclaimed this week that they were expelling TV entertainer Bill Crosby and director Roman Polanski from their prestigious ranks. The expulsion of Crosby was triggered by his conviction last week, having been accused of rampant sexual assault for a number of years now. Yet, the timing of Polanski’s removal is slightly harder to place – and as such comes across not as a triumph of morality, but good PR and a 40-years-too-late pat on the back.
The overarching accusation Polanski has faced – several others have emerged in the wake of #MeToo – dates back to March 1977, when the director was charged with the drugging and raping of 13-year-old Samantha Geimer. Though Polanski initially denied all of the charges levelled at him, he later pleaded guilty to having unlawful sexual intercourse with Geimer. Hours before being sentenced in 1978, Polanski fled to France – where has remained ever since, with the six charges still pending to this day.
Sounds pretty black-and-white, right? Tell that to Martin Scorsese, Tilda Swinton, David Lynch, Guillermo del Toro, Meryl Streep… In fact, name one of your favourite Hollywood celebrities from the last 40 years and, chances are, they have publicly supported Polanski. “He’s an artist!” they’ll defend, “He was never convicted!” they’ll assert. They’re right, of course – Chinatown is phenomenal, and Polanski has indeed yet to be prosecuted (the French authorities that are keeping him snug have made sure of that). But there’s a larger conversation to be had here – one in which we don’t blindly dismiss sexual criminality, for the sake of not feeling guilty when we watch our favourite movie.
As demonstrated by #MeToo and the events of the past few months, the tide is eventually beginning to turn. Indeed, many of those A-listers who in 2009 signed a letter calling for Polanski’s release (after a near-conviction in Switzerland) have since retracted their display of solidarity. Natalie Portman, speaking in February, regretted that her ‘eyes were not open’, while Canadian director Xavier Dolan explained that it was the unfortunate product of a young filmmaker signing something that many of his idols had.
This was always going to filter through the Academy eventually, and it’s perhaps worth drawing attention to their membership overhaul – with a view to get more diverse opinions into their voting personnel. The most immediate impact of this can be seen in the Best Picture winners of the last two years – Moonlight and The Shape of Water – which would never have had a sniff at the award, had the demographics of the Academy’s membership not been re-evaluated for diversity. Perhaps we can find some relief in knowing Polanski would never repeat his 2003 Oscar win for Best Director in today’s cultural climate. Or would he?
Alas, when we rejoice this week over the long overdue condemning of Polanski and Crosby, it’s perhaps worth paying some consideration to Casey Affleck, to Kobe Bryant – to the countless other Oscar winners, nominees, and members who, while not convicted, we know to be criminals too. How about their expulsion?