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I was strolling up and down the new releases aisle a few days go and quickly came across The Pianist—one of this year’s surprising Oscar favorites. I read across the tape’s glossy cover: “Best Actor,” “Best Screenplay.” But then I stopped at “Best Director.” You see, I don’t consider the film’s Oscar triumphs unexpected because The Pianist was a bad movie—it wasn’t. Rather, the controversial nomination and recognition of the film’s director, Roman Polanski, gave me pause. As I read across the box, I remembered the way I felt on Oscar night: it’s too bad that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences chose to honor such a unscrupulous and immoral man.
To be fair, I didn’t know all that much about Roman Polanski when he won his award. I knew he was recognized for edgy, “brutally honest” type films and I recalled some controversy surrounding his nomination. I was also surprised that an organization as self-conscious as the Academy would concede an award to such a questionable figure. But I did a bit of research on the Oscar winner and found that I should not be surprised at the Academy; I should be disgusted.
Polanski’s life has been peppered with odd tragedies. Yet the most tragic misfortune is his sordid, criminal act committed against a 13-year-old girl. There were six charges leveled against the director involving giving drugs to the girl and engaging in seedy sexual acts. To this day he can’t set foot on U.S. soil for fear of arrest.
When Woody Allen married his stepdaughter people were outraged. For many, Allen’s controversial marriage left him stigmatized. The scandal-loving media had a field day. Yet, in the end, he’d done nothing illegal. Sure, judgments of immorality are up to individual inclinations, but you’d think that after committing such a horrible crime against a minor, Polanski would forever be an industry pariah. His actions were inexcusable and disgusting. That we are extolling him for his work is unbelievable.
It is not enough to say that the Academy is merely praising his talent and not Polanski himself. The United States, the country in which he is wanted, allowed the movie to be shown in theaters. That is enough. There is no need to further the exaltation of a serious sex offender who has not even had the decency to confront the consequences of his actions—instead, he has shirked the law and used the guise of movie genius to conceal his repugnant actions.
A controversial movie is far different from a controversial moviemaker who’s more fit for prison than movie lots. It’s baffling that people are willing to overlook atrocities as severe as Polanski’s simply because he makes intense movies or because it seems avant-garde to hail a dubious, unrepentant figure. He didn’t show at the awards—he hasn’t even been to Canada since fleeing indictment from fear of extradition—but the Academy and any actors who cheered his honor should be ashamed. France, his land of refuge, can keep him.
—Morgan R. Grice is an editorial comper.
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