The XX Factor

Victim-Blaming in the Roman Polanski Documentary

Marina Zenovich’s documentary on the 1977 Roman Polanski rape case ( Roman Polanski: Wanted & Desired) is about to become an oft-cited source in the contentious debate about Polanski’s 32-years-removed arrest that went down in Switzerland over the weekend. In it, Zenovich makes the fair argument that the judge overseeing the Polanski case was biased from the get-go-he’s depicted as a celebrity-obsessed, press-provoking joke of a judge whose No.1 concern was his own image. This portrait probably has some truth to it; there was eventually a successful motion to remove him from the case and even the victim has said that the ensuing media shitstorm ruined her adolescense . But the rest of the documentary is a gross overwrought defense of Polanski. I watched it last night (Netflix Instant!) and I felt like I was watching a clique of popular kids defend the star football player. Not because he’s innocent (Polanski pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with a minor) but because it would be such a gosh darn tragedy for the team to lose such a great player.

Excepting the lawyers who worked on the case, the majority of the voices in the film are Polanski’s Hollywood friends, and they make great strides to point out the “reputation” of the victim. More than two people note that the girl was not a virgin. In a clip that made me want to stab out my eyeballs, one female friend of Polanski’s goes so far as to mention that the girl’s mother introduced herself to Polanski as “an actress” and then asks, “Why would her mother let her daughter go to a photo shoot alone with him in the first place?” Oh yes, I see, clearly her mother deliberately set her up to be raped in order to advance her career! Now there’s some stellar logic fit for inclusion in a documentary. (Note: the film won a Sundance award for editing.) When the interviewees are not busy bashing the girl and her mother, they spend time expounding on Polanski’s enormous talent, and what a terrible tragedy it is that something like this would happen to such an important, valuable figure (notice the passive verbs). The documentary oozes with sympathy when covering the myriad of hardships Polanski’s endured, i ncluding the murder of his pregnant wife at the hands of crazed Manson followers . Yes, his life was truly, truly heartbreaking. But is it possible for a man to be a brilliant director, survive the Holocaust, tragically lose the love of his life to a brutal murder, and still not rape a 13-year-old? Of course.