‘Why are female directors silent about Roman Polanski’s arrest?” asked Aviva Kempner in a post on the Forward’s Sisterhood blog. Excellent question. Kempner, a documentary film director herself, has plenty of admiration for Polanski’s artistry and, as the daughter of Holocaust survivors, sympathy for his horrible childhood fleeing Nazi terror. But in Kempner’s view — and our own — none of that should ameliorate the fact that Polanski has never had to fully account for raping a 13-year-old girl, except to flee the country and, for the last 31 years, live quite comfortably in a Europe that seems eager to excuse such behavior.
Her question bears repeating here because it exposes an uncomfortable truth: While, infuriatingly, famous male directors have been quick to speak against Polanski’s arrest, female directors have been largely silent. Yet they know as well as anyone the insidious machinations that fuel Hollywood, leaving the young and impressionable open to manipulation by those with power and without scruples.
But why pin this only on Hollywood? The larger uncomfortable truth is that rape is too often excused in polite company, never mind in societies in which it is practiced with impunity by soldiers, strangers and family men.
As of this writing, Polanski’s plea to be released from a Zurich jail had been denied, and he remains incarcerated until authorities decide whether, and when, he is to be extradited to the United States. We shed no tears for him. Reserve them for the many defiled girls and women who have no celebrity defenders, no pricey lawyers or escape home in Switzerland.
Seen through modern eyes, the vengeful biblical retribution taken by Jacob’s sons after the rape of their sister Dinah is viewed with horror. But to excuse sexual assault is just as horrific, no matter when it happened.