Forgiving the Famous: Armstrong, Gibson, Polanski et al

As difficult as it is to gain somebody’s forgiveness when you’ve let them down, it’s often harder to forgive yourself.  Imagine what it must be like when the whole world is watching and arguing over whether you should be allowed to continue with your life in peace or be hung, drawn and quartered for your crime.

Take Lance Armstrong, one time cycling hero now cut down to size by a raging public who will probably never let him forget that he cheated his way to the top.  I don’t think Armstrong deserves anybody’s forgiveness – he took millions for races he won through doping, gladly took on hero status, launched a worldwide charity and then lied through his teeth to avoid losing it all, letting down those who worshiped him and a thriving charity now tainted by his wrongdoings.  And he still appears unrepentant.

See also Mel Gibson, he of anti-semitic rant, Mad Max, drunk driving, (alleged) wife beating and controversial Jesus movie fame.  During the recent Golden Globes Robert Downey Jr eloquently called for Gibson’s forgiveness.

But has Mel (standing smugly behind Downey Jr throughout his speech) really ‘hugged the cactus long enough’?  Should somebody shown to be so unpleasant a person be allowed to continue in a career in the glare of the spotlight?  Is it our place to forgive Mel Gibson or is it the place of his abused ex-wife, the Jewish police officer, the employee he referred to as ‘a wetback’?

What is somewhat incredible is that while Armstrong and Gibson are being hung out to dry for their sins, the BFI have been merrily planning a grand retrospective of the work of Roman Polanski.  Celebrated as one of the greatest movie directors of all times, Polanski is the man behind such celebrated offerings as The Pianist, for which he won an Oscar and a BAFTA, Chinatown, for which he won a BAFTA as well as gaining an Oscar nomination, and Rosemary’s Baby, still held up as one of the finest psychological horrors of all times.

Oh, and speaking of psychological horrors Polanski is a child sex abuser too.

rosemaryTo clarify, in 1977 the director was charged with rape by use of drugs, perversion, sodomy, lewd and lascivious acts on a child under the age of 14 and furnishing a controlled substance to a minor.  He initially pleaded not guilty but later accepted a plea bargain, ie: he ADMITTED it.  Yet rather than face charges and show repentance, Polanski hopped the country.

Polanski has avoided extradition to the US ever since.  Not only that but he continues to make movies, receive awards and rake in millions.  Actors such as Johnny Depp, Adrien Brody, Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet and Ben Kingsley have starred in his films.  Hollywood luminaries including Woody Allen, David Lynch, Darren Aronofsky and Martin Scorsese signed a petition requesting Polanski be let off.  Whoopi Goldberg, lest we forget, doesn’t even believe he committed ‘rape rape’.

As you may well point out Samantha Gailey, Polanski’s young victim, has since spoken about the abuse, playing down the crime by stating ‘he wasn’t hurting me and he wasn’t forceful or mean or anything like that’.  Does that make sex with a 13 year old ok?  Is it worth noting that Gailey sued her abuser for sexual assault, seduction and – most interestingly – intentional infliction of emotional distress?  Or that Gailey accepted an out of court settlement?

The world seems to find it easy to forget that this feted film director committed a heinous crime just as disgusting as some of those currently being investigated through Operation Yewtree.  The BFI, BAFTA, AMPAS, the movie-going public and Hollywood seem to be able to separate Polanski’s crimes from the genius of his work.

Should we be able to do the same?  I don’t know that I can. I’ve always disliked Mel Gibson and I have little to no interest in cycling, however I am a great lover of films.  Despite this I can’t bring myself to watch a Polanski film (I saw Rosemary’s Baby unaware of Polanski and his not-so-private life but have a gaping hole in the filmic experience where perhaps Chinatown and Tess and The Pianist should be).  If the public are so willing to overlook the actions of a man who drugged and sexually abused a young girl because he makes decent movies shouldn’t we forgive a cheater and a manic-depressive drunk with a less than appealing way with words or an equally unpleasant but talented fashion designer (John Galliano who, after two years out in the cold is set to fill a position at Oscar de la Renta)?  Should we continue to celebrate Polanski’s work while we burn BBC abusers alive?  Are some of the Yewtree defendants less culpable than others because they didn’t ‘rape rape’?  Should they be allowed to continue on with their lives and their careers in the way Polanski has?

When it comes to forgiving celebrities where do we draw the line?

One response

  1. Great article. Operation Yewtree has shed an ugly light on large sections of yesteryear British show business but I’m willing to bet it would amount to a tiny hill of beans compared to what goes on in Hollywood, and that really bothers me. Polanski is a fine example of people’s fickleness when it comes to ‘forgiveness’ of celebrities, seemingly based on perceived talent, popularity and cultural impact. God knows what’s being hidden (and probably protected) in the closets of other influential and/or bankable Hollywood talent.

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