The César Academy defends Roman Polanski and calls for equality for all men
A satirical piece on the French film industry
Press release at March 3, 2020 from the Académie des Arts et Techniques du Cinéma
In last week's César Awards ceremony, we awarded Roman Polanski the César for Best Director, prompting a backlash that continues to roil the French film industry. In this statement, we share the thinking behind our decision, and we call for an end to the capricious discrimination faced by men alive today.
Four decades ago, in 1977, Mssr. Polanski raped a child, then fled from American justice. Still wanted by the courts of California, Polanski is the only film industry professional working today who is subject to an Interpol red notice as he parades the red carpet. This, we do not dispute.
It is the 'So what?' where our position and yours may not perfectly align.
You say he should be in handcuffs, rather than pawing nymphs on the steps at Cannes. You say he should be mumbling for release in his seventeenth parole hearing, instead of making press statements about getting "lynched" while enjoying all the privileges of a white dude and showing no awareness whatsoever of the racial irony. You say he will probably never face justice, because forty-two years of tanned freedom in Continental Europe have taken their toll, and any minute now, at aged almost ninety, he's going to softly expire in an alpine cottage somewhere.
This is what you say.
But here is our question to you. Why should Polanski be singled out and he alone be held to your new standards? Why is an allowance made for Polanski's predecessors, but not for him?
Let us explain. Think of any great artist. Shakespeare. Michelangelo. Mozart. Picasso. Are you suggesting those men were all sensitive lovers who waited until the third date to ask if he might gently take her hand in his? (Or gently put her hand on his ––, or gently put his hand in her ––, et cetera?) Are you seriously contending that, before he wrenched at that corset, Shakespeare sat there, patiently nodding through all the with-child rumors she'd heard down at the water pump? You think Mozart, before dropping his tights, had her clarify exactly what physical permissions she was granting when she said, "The bit with the violins is pretty catchy, I guess"? Shakespeare had iambic pentameter to write! The time Mozart would have spent clarifying her ums and ahs and get-the-hell-offs could have cost the world 'Symphony No. 36'!
Here is the reality: those men were very probably scumbags by your definition too. Consent, we remind you, is a new idea. Shakespeare, Mozart, Picasso, Polanski too, were not taught that idea. They were told they had a moral duty to their own greatness, to the metered reality of their own mortality. Therefore, to the tent-pole in their undergarments when necessary, because boners are distracting and these gentlemen had work to do.
We ask you: what do you people want? The commitment of those men to their own greatness is why we have such astonishing work of theirs today. Do you not want 'Symphony No. 36', is that what you are saying? You would rather some long-dead waif felt "respected" in those ten minutes, than have Mozart spend his time creating the soaring masterpiece you're now thinking of using for your third wedding video? Those ten minutes of that waif's life are documented nowhere, they may as well have not existed. Whereas the work of these men endures forever.
The question we the Academy put to the world today is: do you value "sensitivity in the bedroom" more than you value The Sistine Chapel? Because when it comes to great men, maybe you can't have both. Genius has a price. Sometimes, the genius himself pays it. For example, he ends up with dick rot, or in a pauper's grave, or outed by an inconvenient wife who announces she wrote all his novels. But most of the time, the help pays for his genius. That's why they're called 'the help'. Or 'women'. Or whatever the buzzword du jour is.
The difference between Polanski and those greats of yesteryear is that we know Polanski is a scumbag. When it comes to Polanski's forefathers, we can only speculate. Contemplating a daguerreotype of the decidedly hairy Dickens, we might struggle not to imagine him pulling his wag out at a cornered chimney sweep – but we cannot know for sure. Consider that it is only because of improvements in democracy, life expectancy, mass communication, global literacy, civic integrity, and understanding that women may not be amoebas intellectually, that Polanski was convicted at all. How is that fair?
We have a two-tier system. On one hand: Polanski, persecuted because a few people decided to remember and then not shut up about it. On the other: Shakespeare (almost certainly a shithead and a lech, because that was the energy back then) getting away with it, getting his name writ large on tour buses in Stratford-upon-Avon. And the only difference between these two men? Their timing in history. Again, we ask: where is the justice in that?
If all men are truly born equal, then the man born in the twentieth-century must be held to the same standards of behavior as the man born in the sixteenth-century. The ostracization faced by living men through this egregious double standard must end. Men alive today have suffered in silence long enough.
And so, yes, we the Academy honor Polanski. You say: we have rewarded pedophilia and dismissed criminality. We say: we chose to focus on the man reflected in the work, and not the man reflected in the court ruling, the extradition request, the subsequent claims from other women, and the outrage from almost every feminist alive. We did so after asking ourselves, 'What would Aristotle do?' And it is proudly that we shall persist in judging our fellow men by the same standards as an extinct civilization in whose entertainment women were knocked up by swans.
That is why, today, we make no apology for refusing to condemn a man just because suddenly child rape is a barrier for most people. Instead, rather than unfairly singling out living men for punishment, we call for every distinguished man in history to be investigated for sex crimes. And not merely by twitchy female academics whose sweaters smell of baby bats. Nope, we want crack teams of CSIs, properly got up like Keanu, travelling back in time and searching Elizabethan pot plants for semen.
Only when that happens – when dead men are held to the same standards as the living; when the world knows beyond doubt whether Picasso was handsy with more than a paintbrush, if Alexander Graham Bell only invented the telephone to facilitate his fetish for heavy breathing, and did Marlowe raid more ass than Dulcolax – only then will we at the César Academy accept we might be a little bit wrong and/or deeply fucked-up.
By that time, though, we’ll all be dead too.
Vive la liberté, égalité, fraternité! (But mostly fraternity.)
End of Press Release
Notes from Winter Bel
I'm presently working on a play centered on the #MeToo movement in France, where Polanski is a divisive figure. (At least, he is divisive in the arts. Polls consistently show that broader French society is less conflicted about Polanski, with a majority of French people - as many as 75% in some polls - wishing to see him extradited to America to face justice for his assault of a 13 year-old girl.) This "press release" is a piece I wrote to amuse myself, when first plotting my play. In it, I try to imagine how exactly the César Academy might justify their appalling decision to continue to celebrate Polanski. As you can see, I struggled to find an argument that wasn't insane.