Content warning: rape, sexual assault.
At the end of February, the Me Too movement enjoyed a monumental victory when acclaimed film producer Harvey Weinstein was found guilty of rape and sexual assault. More than 80 women in the film industry have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct, including Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, and Cara Delevingne. These allegations kickstarted the Me Too movement, which saw thousands open up about their experiences of sexual assault. Although Weinstein faced upwards of 80 allegations, he was charged solely for the sexual assault of former production assistant Mimi Haleyi, and the rape of aspiring actress Jessica Mann. He now faces up to 25 years in prison and is still expected to stand trial for two more assault allegations from 2013.
This event has been rightfully celebrated, as many see it as a win for the Me Too movement and a landmark moment in the fight against normalised sexual assault, particularly in the entertainment industry. Weinstein’s conviction sends a message: it doesn’t matter who you are, or how powerful you are, abuse is not okay, and you won’t get away with it.
Yet, only days later, the entirely opposite message was given at the 2020 César Awards, often regarded as the French equivalent of the Academy Awards. Roman Polanski’s latest movie, J’accuse – known as An Officer and a Spy in the English-speaking world – was nominated for 12 César Awards, with Polanski himself taking home one of the biggest honours of the night: the award for best director.
In 1977, Polanski was arrested and charged for drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl in Los Angeles. He accepted a plea bargain, wherein he pleaded guilty to the lesser crime of unlawful sex with a minor, in exchange for the more severe charges, including rape by use of drugs, to be dropped. It was later revealed, however, that Polanski was likely to face deportation and imprisonment. In response, he fled to France, where he has lived and worked ever since. In 2009, whilst in Switzerland to attend the Zurich Film Festival, Polanski was arrested by Swiss authorities, who intended to extradite him to the US. The international response included a petition appealing for his release, signed by more than 100 people in the film industry, including Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson, and David Lynch. Polanski was later released from custody in 2010.
Not only has Polanski never faced justice or widespread condemnation for his crimes, he also remains active in the film industry and has produced multiple critically acclaimed movies since 1977. His win at the 2020 Césars, during the height of the Me Too movement, is perhaps the biggest indicator that there is still work to be done in the fight against widespread sexual assault and rape.
The tide is turning, however. More than 100 people gathered outside the venue of the César Awards to protest Polanski’s nominations and subsequent win. After Polanski was announced as the recipient of the best director award, many of the audience booed, while others walked out of the room in protest. It is undeniably disheartening to see abusers not only evade justice, but continue to be rewarded for their art, but the resistance is there, and it’s growing every day.
Weinstein’s conviction should be celebrated, as it is proof of what a movement like Me Too can accomplish, but we must never lose sight of what still needs to be done. A battle has been won, but the war still rages on, and we must all keep up the fight.
Guest blog by Rachel Hughes.