76 year-old director Roman Polanski is sitting in a Swiss jail right now. And no, he's not doing research for his next Oscar-hopeful. Polanski, who directed Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown and more recently the 2003 Oscar-winning The Pianist, was arrested on route to the Zurich Film Festival where he was to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award. For those of who you don't the scandal: In 1977 Polanski plead guilty for drugging and having sex with a 13 year old girl at the Los Angeles home of actor Jack Nicholson. The then 44-year-old Polanski fled to Europe before his sentencing. California has been trying to get its hands on Polanski for over 30 years and, well, now that's he in a Swiss jail, he may get that conviction once and for all.
John Farr over at Huffington Post believes Polanski should receive leniency considering his troubled life before sexing the 13 year old. He writes:
"But the story of what Polanski suffered even before the unspeakable trauma of having his pregnant wife Sharon Tate butchered in the spooky twilight of the turbulent Sixties makes me believe that overall, he's as much victim as predator himself. Can you imagine living in the Krakow ghetto during the Nazi Occupation, and at the tender age of ten watching both your parents shuttled off to concentration camps, only to have your mother die in one?"
I'm not sure I agree. Although the Holocaust and the murder of a wife by Charles Manson are absolutely horrid events for anyone to endure, I'm not sure that exempts one from a crime against a 13-year-old. Hey, I could easily argue that certain crimes committed by African-Americans could be linked to the trauma and post-trauma of Jim Crow or the dehumanizing institution of slavery.
In the 2008 documentary Wanted and Desired, Polanski apparently reveals there was more to his flight to Europe than a man simply running from his conviction. I haven't viewed the doc, but I'm anxious to hear the other side of this 32-year-old saga of a one-time sex offender who was able to build an amazing career. But it appears the bigger question coming out of Hollywood isn't whether pedophilia deserves punishment; it's whether a troubled artist should be forgiven for a sex crime when his life has been traumatic and it's clear he's changed. I almost forgot: the victim forgives him too.
Keith Josef Adkins is an award-winning playwright, screenwriter and social commentator.