Friday, 2 October 2009

Scientologists not supporting Polanski

Here's a curious fact about the many cinematic luminaries who have pledged their support to fugitive sex offender Roman Polanski. None of them, so far as I can tell, is a Scientologist. Tom Cruise didn't sign (though Penelope Cruz, whose lack of enthusiasm for the cult of L. Ron Hubbard may have doomed their relationship, did). Nor did John Travolta. Comparing a list of known current and former celebrity Scientologists with the list of signatories of the French petition, I found no overlaps: even celebrities who have turned their backs on Scientology, like Demi Moore, don't want to lend their names to the Free Polanski campaign. Meanwhile Polanski's strongest support comes from France, where there have been legal moves to have the Church of Scientology banned. Coincidence?

One of the most prominent Hollywood Scientologists, Kirstie Alley, is also one of the very few stars to have publicly denounced both Polanski and his supporters. She has issued a number of strongly worded Tweets. "It is really bothering me" she typed, in response to Whoopi Goldberg's much derided claim that Polanski's crime didn't amount to "rape-rape", "that drugging a 13 year old, having vaginal and ANAL sex with her as she tells him to STOP is anything but RAPE". Also, "THESE POLANSKI supporters are sending OUR DAUGHTERS the message that RAPE PERPS are different from one another. THEY ARE NOT" and " This is one Hollywood star who does not CELEBRATE or DEFEND Roman Polanski."

In response to a gossip blogger who pointed out that Polanski had only pleaded guilty to statutory rape, Alley responded with a graphic description of his alleged crime, before adding:


"Have we really gotten so STUPID and TWISTED that we care what the CRIMINAL says he was doing? and do we REALLY think a 45 day stay in jail makes up for RAPING a child? Polanski was afraid he wouldn't get a FAIR TRIAL? hmmm ISN'T THAT WHAT ALL CRIMINALS SAY? I'm going to go bang my head on the floor..makes more sense than defending a RAPIST."


I agree with her sentiments; less enamoured of her capitalisation.
I don't really believe that being or having been involved in the "Church of Scientology" - whose own track-record in covering up for paedophiles rivals that of the Catholic Church - is what makes one immune from the charms of the Franco-Polish dwarf. Another high-profile names to come out resolutely against Polanski is Kevin Smith, not a Scientologist. There may be broader cultural factors at work. Despite the widespread belief that "liberal" Hollywood is backing him, most of the names on the petition are European, South American or from the world of independent and arthouse cinema. Even Woody Allen, these days comes into that category. The prominent part in the campaign played by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, the attention paid to Whoopi Goldberg, and the signature of Martin Scorsese, may be misleading.

According to John Horn in the LA times, it is "almost impossible to find anyone publicly condemning Polanski" in Hollywood. Film historian David Thomson is quoted as saying that it proves Hollywood is "an old-fashioned and provincial club" where "people look after their own." Most of the top Hollywood stars and directors have not signed. Not even the usual suspects: no Spielberg, no Tarantino, no Brangelina or George Clooney. (Jack Nicholson hasn't signed either, but he might have his own reasons.) So why have they remained silent? Can public silence be equated with support and sympathy? Or is it cowardice, as some have suggested, an unwillingness to rock the boat? There's a similarity with the reaction (or lack thereof) to Mel Gibson's anti-semitic tirade a couple of years back. Feminist film blogger Melissa Silverstein speculated that people were "afraid about their next job", and wrote about a "culture of misogyny" in Hollywood. "In my gut I believe that the women of Hollywood are appalled by what is happening". Perhaps, but there are women in Hollywood powerful and respected enough not to fear losing work: we haven't heard from them.

Perhaps they're waiting to see which way the wind is blowing. The past few days have seen a dramatic reversal of opinion - or at least of perceived opinion. Initial comment was all in Polanski's favour. His friends rallied round, as did sympathetic commentators like Anne Applebaum. There were statements of breathtaking pomposity from self-declared representatives of the international artistic community - "By their extraterritorial nature, film festivals the world over have always permitted works to be shown and for filmmakers to present them freely and safely, even when certain States opposed this" wrote the authors of the main petition. One French minister (a regular visitor to Thailand) claimed it was evidence of the "dark side" of America. There were diplomatic protests. The uber-liberal Huffington Post ran several articles supporting the director, including one by Joan Z Shore (of Women Abroad for Equality) who said she was "utterly charmed by Roman's sobriety and intelligence." CIF ran a dreadful piece by Agnes Poirier.

And then the reaction started - on obscure blogs, to begin with (like this one) and then in the press, people looked into the facts of the thirty year old crime and were appalled. Even French newspapers found that their readers did not share the opinions of their cultural luminaries. When Whoopi Goldberg made her "rape-rape" gaffe she was pilloried; she has now "clarified" her comments and made clear that she is "not a supporter of Roman Polanski". Anti-Polanski pieces turned up on HuffPo and CIF. A former police officer whose testimony had formed the backbone of the documentary Wanted and Desired (treated as gospel by most of Roman's supporters) changed his story. Finally even the French government stopped supporting him. "The American and Swiss legal systems are doing their job" said a spokesman. It's now quite difficult to find anyone prepared to write in Polanski's support.