The Untouchables?

Imagine you’re reading the news. You come across a particularly disturbing headline; it reads something along the lines of – ‘Young Girl Accuses Father of Sexual Assault.’ What’s your natural, instinctive reaction? Disgust? Horror?

There’s next to no doubt as to the truthfulness of the child’s allegations. Her story has never changed or wavered. The details are disturbingly specific. There’s hard documentation, a hoard of circumstantial evidence, and a prosecutor who says he has enough to successfully prosecute. Is that enough for you? Do you believe the right thing in a storm of wrongdoings, is for there to be a conviction? Do you assume that an allegedly bad man who has done allegedly (and not so allegedly) bad things will be convicted of his crimes and be punished for allegedly abusing a small, innocent child? Well, you’d be wrong.

657Woody Allen and Mia Farrow with their children, Dylan (left) and Ronan (right) Farrow. Image: DPA.

That innocent child was Dylan Farrow. Her father, the accused, was Woody Allen. There was no conviction. Proceedings were halted by the prosecutor and Dylan’s mother Mia Farrow, because it was believed the stress of the situation was becoming an unbearable burden on an increasingly fragile and vulnerable little Dylan. Woody Allen has no dark cloud hanging over his head. He is a multi-millionaire filmmaker. Celebrated, even revered, by many. But why?

I myself do not enjoy Woody Allen’s films. Maybe it’s because I was raised outside of that strange bubble that the industry who powers him, lives within; the bubble in which he’s untouchable. Safe. A genius. Or maybe it’s because my mother hated Woody Allen films. As far as she was concerned, he was always the man who did something wrong – disturbing, to her (and many) – and that meant she wasn’t interested in hearing, or seeing, anything much that he had to say.

My personal disinterest in Allen may also stem from the fact that I find his films to be boring, for the most part. To me, it feels like he just makes the same movie over, and over, and over again. People are still stumbling over themselves to throw cash at Allen to keep telling the same story: Older guy. Much younger girl. Strange, put upon love story. Set in a city, usually New York, other times Paris. Vaguely sexist jokes. A lot of white people. Some oboe. It’s just not my thing.

Hollywood is a strange place. It’s an industry that seems to exist within its own state – not just outside of Los Angeles, but also outside the rest of the world. It makes its own rules and laws; all you need is enough money and to know the right people, and you’re basically untouchable. Hell, if you’re one particularly lucky sex offender, you might even manage to get hoards of glittery big names and powerful people to lineup and sign a petition wanting to absolve and release you.

658Roman Polanski leaving court in 1977. Image: AP via The Washington Post.

Roman Polanski is a sex offender. In 1977, he was arrested and charged with rape by use of drugs, perversion, sodomy, committing a lewd and lascivious act upon a child under 14, and furnishing a controlled substance to a minor. Those charges were later dismissed under a plea bargain and reduced by admittance to the lesser charge of engaging in unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor – otherwise known as raping a child.

Due to be sentenced in 1978, Polanski had garnered that he would likely face imprisonment and deportation from America (Polanski is a native of France born to Polish and Russian parents), so he fled to France just hours before his sentencing could be handed down. Loopholes in French law and some careful geographic manoeuvring has meant that ever since then, the director has been able to avoid being extradited back to the USA to face prosecution.

Barely a year after fleeing conviction, Polanski gave an interview to the British novelist Martin Amis in which he proved himself to be a man of little to no repentance. Of his conviction and the situation at large, Polanski said: “If I had killed somebody, it wouldn’t have had too much appeal to the press, you see? But… fucking, you see, and the young girls. Judges want to fuck young girls. Juries want to fuck young girls. Everyone wants to fuck young girls!”

That statement coming from anyone – any human in general, let alone someone who has admitted to raping a child – should be enough to make blood boil. And wouldn’t it be, if it weren’t coming from a man who believes himself to be untouchable, because people with power and money and friends in all the right places have told him and everyone else that he is, in fact, untouchable?

659Roman Polanski and Woody Allen in Paris in 2013. Image: Getty Images.

In 2009, Polanski was arrested in Switzerland. The director had been travelling to Zurich to accept an award. The arrest ignited quite the global controversy and eventually lead to governments who had previously vehemently supported Polanski – like France and Poland – to reconsider their positions. Not Hollywood, though. Hollywood, with powerhouse producer Harvey Weinstein leading the pack, circulated a petition calling for the disgraced director to be released.

More than 100 people, many very well known, signed that petition. Names like Woody Allen, yes, but also Wes Anderson, Terry Gilliam, and Darren Aronofsky. Monica Bellucci, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Wong Kar Waï, David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, Tilda Swinton, Natalie Portman, and Harrison Ford. Diane von Furstenberg, Steven Soderbergh, Gael García Bernal, Guillermo del Toro, Brett Ranter, Jeremy Irons, Sam Mendes and Kristen Scott Thomas. And that’s just scratching the surface.

Polanski was eventually released by the Swiss authorities, again without charge or consequence. As of the time of writing, Polanski is facing a new appeal in Poland, where the government are attempting to revive efforts to have the director extradited.

It’s easy to look at these two cases and wonder if it all might be just a sign of the times – to think that these are old happenings, and society is surely now less forgiving of such behaviour. But you’d be wrong. Again.

660Image: Kevin Mazur.

Actor Johnny Depp’s wife Amber Heard filed for divorce in late May. You must know this, unless you’ve been living under a rock. So you must also know that some days later, she applied for a protective order to be taken out against her estranged husband.

Let’s break it down, again. What do we know? A woman filed a domestic abuse restraining order against her husband. That request was granted. It states that the woman’s husband must stay 100 yards away from her for a period of 30 days. She has been granted permission to be allowed to stay at their shared residence. We know that court documents detailed two incidents of abuse, and a third was referenced. The alleged abuse is claimed to have been physical, emotional, and verbal, and to have been prevalent throughout the duration of their relationship. There are allegations that the husband has issues with substance and alcohol abuse. This has been previously publicly admitted to by said husband, as well as admissions of his having a bad and unpredictable temper.

The alleged abuse outlined in the court filing details two incidents – one wherein glasses and glass bottles were swung at objects and property, and thrown both at the wall and at the wife. The wife then alleges that her husband “grabbed” her by the hair and “violently shoved” her to the floor. In a second, a confrontation lead to an outgoing phone call being placed. For reasons which remain unclear, the phone call allegedly elevated the issues at hand and lead the husband to begin shouting obscenities and insults, and to then snatch away his wife’s phone and intentionally throw it at her face. The alleged assault then continued, with the third party who remained on the phone calling the police and the husband’s assault of yelling, hair pulling, striking and grabbing continuing until the neighbouring occupants were alerted and entered the property. There is photographic and, allegedly, video evidence.

Forget that you know their names. What would the headline read if it were anyone else? “Woman Files for Divorce Amidst Claims of Abuse”? Or maybe something more salacious, like “Wife Accuses Husband of Beating; Files for Divorce.” I don’t know. But it surely wouldn’t read like a laundry list of reasons as to why you should believe that it’s the wife’s fault her husband allegedly abused her. Because we know better. We are, as a society – or we’re meant to be – actively engaging in understanding the seriousness of domestic violence and the best and most effective ways of handling it. Of coping with it, and how to best prevent it. Suffice it to say, victim blaming is not one of those ways.

661Image: Clint Brewer/Splash News.

The headlines surrounding Amber Heard’s filings have been nothing short of stomach churning. This is a woman who has provided enough evidence – pictorial and otherwise – to convince a judge that her husband poses a genuine danger to her; enough to grant her request for a protective order. That’s a fact. It is also a fact that Heard is bisexual. Her sexuality is something she has been very open about. But that fact – that she is a woman who is attracted to both men and women – does not define her being. It isn’t relevant when confronting the startling fact that she claims her husband abuses her. She is not ‘Amber Heard: Bisexual.’ or ‘Amber Heard: Golddigger’. She’s just Amber Heard: Human.

The other vile accusation being used to try and discredit Amber Heard and her claims, is that she must surely be trying to swindle her estranged husband out of his money. That she’s manipulating him to get a payout. But think about how this situation has gone down: Heard filed only a couple of days after Depp’s mother passed away. People accused her of being cold, and it certainly looked that way.

But then she filed the restraining order. Depp’s publicity team tried to discredit her, but their efforts were weak at best. Spiteful, even. We know from the court filings that Heard tried to keep this matter quiet. There are emails exchanged between her representation and Depp’s included in the documents submitted to court (along with images, witness statements, and various other pieces of damning evidence). It is because of those emails that we know the filing only went ahead after Depp’s publicity team tried to publicly discredit Heard.

Women who were long-ago involved with Depp have come out publicly and asserted that he wasn’t violent with them. And that may well be true. But it also doesn’t mean that Heard is lying. It just means that those women didn’t share the same experience that Heard alleges she had.

662Via tumblr.com

The reality is, Depp is a very powerful and influential man with a huge number of high-powered friends. He has a lot of pull in his field – a field he shares with his estranged wife – and he has the capacity to sway favour. To make people resist employing Heard. It is entirely possible, if not likely, that Heard has dug herself into a hole by coming out against Johnny Depp. And this is something she must know. The way that she, and her representation, have handled this delicate situation speaks to the fact that Heard is aware of the position she is putting herself in by revealing what she has about Depp; but in the end, her safety was, as it should always be, paramount. So why, then, you have to ask yourself, would she lie? Why would she risk damaging her own reputation when she knows full well the influence of her husband and his friends?

At the end of the day, the question all of this begs, is why do we let Hollywood get away with it? Why is the immediate response of many, to wash away the wrongdoings of these people and to set upon the young girl who has been brave enough to expose herself and the story of her traumatic relationship with her father? Or to attack Mia Farrow, Allen’s former partner and the woman he recently referred to as being his ‘mother-in-law’?

Why do people not only want to doubt a woman who claims she was abused for years by her partner, but would, in fact, rather stand on the side of the person she alleges to be an abuser? In what world is it sound to suggest that too much time has past for the sodomising of a drugged child to be a pertinent enough reason to jail an offender?

Would it be different if they were no-names? Yes. The answer is just yes. There is no question. These are people, like so many others who live in the strange Hollywood bubble, who get away with it. All and any of it. People who are put on pedestals and treated like Midas. Who have cash and awards and accolades thrown at them. And for what? What kind of a society are we to let such atrocious transgressions be buried, all for the sake of money and not much else?

663Image: THR.

You should read Ronan Farrow’s recent essay for The Hollywood Reporter. He penned it after the publication printed a glowing puff piece celebrating his father which neglected to mention the allegations lined up against him. You should go back and read that list of people who supported Roman Polanski’s absolution, and remember that fact when you next watch a project of theirs. You should make note of the publications who print headlines blaming a victim for their alleged abuser’s behaviour, or who suggest that someone’s sexuality is an acceptable, if likely, reason for someone to have to endure an abusive relationship.

Think about where you’re putting your money – whose hands it’s passing into – and whether you’re comfortable letting a lawless industry continue to do whatever it pleases just because they think they should be able.