French-Polish filmmaker Roman Polanski has threatened to sue the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for not giving him a “fair hearing” before expelling him from its membership last week. Polanski was removed along with comedian and actor Bill Cosby, both of whom have been convicted for sexual offences.
The move against Polanski comes more than four decades after the filmmaker in 1977 admitted to having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old. He fled from the United States the next year to escape imprisonment and now lives in France.
Polanski’s lawyer Harland Braun told the Academy that the expulsion went against its code of conduct. “We are not here contesting the merits of the expulsion decision, but rather your organisation’s blatant disregard of its own Standards of Conduct in, as well as its violations of the standards required by California Corporations Code,” his letter said, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Braun told Los Angeles Times, “What I would hope is that [the Academy’s legal counsel] would say, ‘Let’s avoid an expensive lawsuit. Let’s just start over. We’ll rescind the expulsion and we’ll put him on notice that we’re thinking of expelling him and we’ll give you the opportunity to present your case.”
Polanski’s accuser, who has publicly forgiven him, had described the Academy’s move as “an ugly and cruel action which serves only appearance”.
Polanski won an Oscar for best director in 2003 for his Holocaust film The Pianist. Braun told the LA Times that the allegations against the director were not a secret at the time. “When that award was given, everyone knew about the offence,” he said. “...And all of the sudden, they turn on him and expel him without a hearing? I think they thought this was an easy one – an 84-year-old director’s not going to fight it, right?”
In January, the Academy instituted a new code of conduct for its members in response to the growing allegations of sexual harassment against Hollywood personalities, starting with film producer Harvey Weinstein, who was also removed from the Academy last year. According to the code, “There is no place in the Academy for people who abuse their status, power or influence in a manner that violates recognised standards of decency.” Any member found to have violated these standards may face suspension or expulsion, it added.
Before his expulsion from the Academy, Polanski had criticised the #MeToo movement, which gathered pace after the Weinstein revelations. “I think this is the kind of mass hysteria that occurs in society from time to time,” the director told Polish magazine Newsweek Polska. “Sometimes it’s very dramatic, like the French Revolution or the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre in France, or sometimes it’s less bloody, like 1968 in Poland or McCarthyism in the US...Everyone is trying to back this movement, mainly out of fear...I think it’s total hypocrisy.”
Several Twitter users condemned Polanski’s comments.