Fifteen years ago this month, the Best Picture race at the Oscars pitted Rob Marshall’s razzle-dazzle musical “Chicago” against Roman Polanski’s wrenching Holocaust drama “The Pianist”: a bipolar set of Academy Awards contenders that caused many critics and filmmakers to get both their knickers and their boxers in a twist.
Yes, “The Pianist” may have been the more important work, but was it so important that movie folks could forgive Polanski for the 1977 rape of a 13-year-old child that caused him to become a permanent fugitive from American justice?
Sympathetic Patrick Goldstein, writing in the influential Los Angeles Times, compared Polanski’s case to that of “Les Miserable’s” Jean Valjean, “an ex-con trying to turn his life around who is being obsessively tracked and hunted down by the Parisian police inspector Javert.” Well, of course, drugging and raping a pubescent girl for your perverse pleasure is just like stealing a loaf of bread to feed your family. Peas in a pod, old Roman and Jean.
More from the Goldstein crowd: Polanski’s crime happened long ago, and he’s confessed it, and his victim, in middle-age, has forgiven him, and he was a child of the Holocaust himself, and his first wife was murdered by the Manson family. C’mon, man, he’s suffered enough.
“Chicago” won that battle, but director Rob Marshall lost to Polanski. “The Pianist” also won Oscars for its adapted screenplay and for Adrien Brody’s tour de force performance in the title role.
That was today and this is now. One reasonably wonders if “The Pianist” would even be in the discussion for Oscars, not in the #MeToo moment when the age of an assault on a woman, let alone a child, has no expiration date. One thing we’ll likely never see again is a winning actor force-kissing his presenter as Brody did to a startled Halle Berry on the Kodak stage. Not if he values the family jewels.
Look around. Nate Parker, an actor turned director, left the 2016 Sundance Film Festival with a $17 million distribution pick-up deal with Fox Searchlight for his slave rebellion drama “The Birth of a Nation,” along with assurances from critics that he was on his way to Oscar glory. But the hot spotlight on him caused journalists to dig into the 1999 rape trial of Parker and his college roommate, co-defendant and “Nation” co-writer Jean McGianni Celestin.
The gist of the case was that Parker was having sex with a drunk student and Celestin was either invited by Parker or invited himself to participate. Parker was acquitted while Celestin was sent to prison.
By its release nine months after Sundance, “The Birth of a Nation” was on life support and though he won a DGA award for a first feature, his film received no Oscar nominations and his career also seems to be on life support. His IMDB page lists an “Untitled Nate Parker Project.” And I have an untitled book I’d like to sell you.
Then, there is Woody Allen, a perennial academy favorite with a total of 24 nominations for writing, directing, and acting. His sin, as reported by the seven-year-old adopted daughter of his long-term partner Mia Farrow, dates back to 1992 when the girl claimed Allen molested her in an attic while whispering in her ear that it would be their secret.
Allen has always denied the event and social service authorities found no conclusive evidence of it. But Dylan has stuck with her story, recalling details in a New York Times op-ed piece after Allen received his last Oscar screenplay nomination for “Blue Jasmine,” and those details have gained legions of believers in the current environment.
Allen’s current “Wonder Wheel,” a dometic drama set in 1950s Coney Island and featuring a brilliant lead performance by Kate Winslet, was D.O.A. at the box office, and Amazon, which has a lengthy production contract with Allen, is in a quandary what to do with his latest film, “A Rainy Day in New York,” and any projects beyond.
A parade of actors have expressed regret for appearing in Allen’s past movies, some even donating their salaries to causes sympathetic to the #MeToo Movement. Winslet is not one of those with regrets She has taken the stand that many critics took on behalf of Polanski in 2003, that you consider the work and not its creator.
Winslet is is no place to condemn Allen, having also worked for Polanski in the 2011 “Carnage.” Polanski crime against a child is not in dispute and even long-time Polanski advocate Quentin Tarantino has changed his tune, apologizing last week to the fugitive’s ’victim, now 54, for telling Howard Stern years ago that she couldn’t have been raped because “she was down for it.”
No one who is forced to do something, whether drugged or not, whether a child or a woman, can be said to be “down for it.” Nor can time erase the element of force. Ask any woman who has been the victim of it. And if you’re Adrien Brody, ask Halle Berry. Go ahead, I dare you.
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