The documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, which investigates the 1978 case against the renowned director in which he pleaded guilty to having sex with a 13-year-old girl before fleeing the U.S. to avoid sentencing, recently premiered on HBO. The film has since stirred a debate over cultural attitudes toward age of consent laws.
What the commentators said
This documentary shows that Polanski may have gotten a bad rap, said Juliet Lapidos in the Slate blog The XX Factor. Yes, “thirteen is young—no doubt about it.” But 18 seems “a little old.” Age of consent laws “are very culture- and century-specific,” and “not everyone’s sexual desires fit neatly into the particular mores of the time they live in.”
“No matter what Polanski believed,” said Cynthia Fuchs in PopMatters.com, “in the U.S. a 13-year-old cannot ‘consent’ to sex.” But the documentary never suggests that Polanski “is not responsible for what he’s done, or that he was reckless regarding consequences.” Wanted and Desired is more interested “in the treatment of Polanski by the U.S. press and legal system.”
The U.S. press treated Polanski much differently than the European press did, said Christopher Campbell in the blog Cinematical. “To Americans, he was a villain—a rich, short foreigner who came over and defiled a little girl.” But in Europe, he was viewed as a talented artist “facing a terrible ordeal.”
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