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Roman Polanski, director and convicted child rapist, is honored in Paris, sparking protests

'D'apres une histoire vraie' Premiere - 13th Zurich Film Festival Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images
Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

Roman Polanski is being honored on Monday night by the Cinémathèque Française, the Guardian reports, in a case of truly bizarre and fairly offensive timing.

Polanski is the celebrated and Oscar-winning director who brought the world movies like Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby. The Cinémathèque Française, a French film organization partially funded by the French government, is hosting a retrospective of his films as a celebration of his career, and Polanski will be attending.

Polanski is also a convicted child rapist. In 1979, he pleaded guilty to statutorily raping a 13-year-old girl in California. (According to the girl’s testimony, he drugged her and then raped her as she repeatedly begged him to stop, but Polanski plea-bargained down to statutory rape rather than rape with the use of drugs.) He fled the country before his sentencing and has not returned to the US since.

In the years since, four more women have come forward to say that Polanski sexually assaulted them when they were children; the most recent accuser says she was just 10 years old when Polanski assaulted her. Polanski himself has readily admitted to having sexual relationships with girls as young as 15 as an adult man, although he claims these relationships were always consensual.

The accusations against Polanski have gradually increased as cultural attitudes toward sexual assault have become less reflexively victim-blaming than they were in the 1970s, and in the wake of Harvey Weinstein’s downfall and the #MeToo movement (or in France, the #BalanceTonPorc movement), the accusations have begun to snowball. Three of Polanski’s five accusers came forward this year, and two of them within the past month. His most recent accuser explicitly says she was inspired to break her long silence by watching Weinstein’s accusers come forward.

So why, as more and more women are finding the courage to speak out against the powerful men they say sexually assaulted them, did the Cinémathèque Française choose this moment to honor a man who has been convicted of raping a minor? A man whose own accounts of his life suggest a pattern of sexually targeting children? A man who is facing two new accusations of sexually assaulting children this month alone?

Activist Laure Salmona circulated a petition calling on the Cinémathèque Française to cancel the Polanski retrospective, calling it “indecent” and “an insult to all the women who mobilized around the #MeToo and #BalanceTonPorc hashtags.” Although the petition had amassed more than 27,000 signatures as of this writing, the Cinémathèque has declared it will not cancel the retrospective, saying that it does not want to “take the place of the justice system,” the Guardian reports. French feminist groups have planned protests in response.

While the Cinémathèque is painting its choice to continue with the Polanski retrospective as apolitical, a gesture that takes only Polanski’s artistic legacy into account, the timing of this retrospective seems pointed. Whether intentional or not, it implies that even in the midst of the #MeToo moment, women and survivors of sexual violence will never be as important or as valuable or as worth celebrating as the powerful men who have attacked them.