Written by Cara Buckley
France delivered mixed messages about Roman Polanski and cancel culture over the last week.
His new film, “J’accuse” — known in English as “An Officer and a Spy” — opened days after a photographer publicly accused the director of violently raping her in 1975, which he denied. After protests, a few screenings were nixed, promotion was curtailed, a French filmmakers guild leaned toward expelling him, and the country’s culture minister said an artist’s potential misdeeds were not excused by the merit of his art.
The critics were in the minority. The film, which tells of the historic miscarriage of justice known as the Dreyfus affair, topped the country’s box office, and, according to its sales distributor, has distribution throughout Europe, Russia and China. Even so, it still does not have a distributor in the large film markets of the United States or Britain.
Two years after sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein ushered in the #MeToo era, directors accused of sexual misdeeds are still experiencing fallout, but to what degree depends on how big their star was to begin with. (Weinstein, who is facing a criminal trial on charges of sexual assault and rape, has denied ever having had nonconsensual sex and pleaded not guilty.)
Polanski and Woody Allen, who just settled a breach-of-contract suit with Amazon after it canceled a four-picture deal, both have broad support in mainland Europe but by and large are now kryptonite in the United States, where several distributors refused to even weigh in for this article, not wanting to be publicly linked in any way to either man.
Polanski fled America in 1978 after he pleaded guilty to statutory rape. Allen was accused by his daughter of molesting her as a child; he has denied wrongdoing. Both men faced renewed recriminations as the #MeToo movement gained momentum.
But thanks to their European audiences, Allen and Polanski have rosier prospects than two newer directors.
Comedian Louis C.K., who admitted in 2017 to masturbating in front of several women, is touring his stand-up act again. But there are no signs that his film, “I Love You, Daddy,” which was about to reach theaters when the allegations went public, will ever be released.
Nate Parker’s 2016 debut, “The Birth of a Nation,” was torpedoed when years-old rape allegations resurfaced; he had been acquitted by a jury in the 1999 case. Now Parker is trying a comeback with the new movie “American Skin.”
The well-reviewed police-shooting drama premiered at the Venice Film Festival in September, and in an interview, Mark Burg, a producer on that film, vigorously defended Parker, saying he was one of the most talented directors he had worked with. “If somebody’s accused and found innocent why would anyone treat them as guilty?” Burg said.
Burg was angry that Parker was included in this article. “I’m disappointed, but that’s what everyone is doing,” he said, adding that the public had “zero problem” with Parker and that it was just the media that brought the old case up.
Burg said that there had been several distribution offers for the film and that they were in negotiations with a studio and hoped to close the deal this week.
Polanski and Allen have reoriented themselves more to European audiences in recent years, where there has been a more lax attitude to #MeToo, at least on the mainland.
After Amazon dropped Allen, his latest picture, “A Rainy Day in New York,” premiered in Poland, and according to Box Office Mojo, it has since made $12.5 million worldwide. As with Polanski’s film, “Rainy Day” does not have distribution in America or Britain. While Spanish communications company Mediapro is producing Allen’s next film, “Rifkin’s Festival,” the chances that it will hit American or British screens also look slim.
The potential financial reward for distributing a Polanski or Allen film stateside may just not be worth the public-relations damage. Aside from an occasional breakout hit like “Blue Jasmine,” from 2013, the box-office returns for Allen’s recent films have been middling or worse. The same goes for Polanski, whose last box-office slam was “The Pianist,” from 2002.
In Britain, audiences also seem reluctant to embrace recent work from Allen or Polanski. Hamish Moseley, managing director for a British distribution company, said the fact that those directors’ films have catered more to art-house audiences in recent years made them riskier bets. “The smaller you go, the more PR has an impact on their commercial fortunes,” he said.
And while some feminists and younger people in mainland Europe have voiced opposition to Polanski and Allen — the production of “Rifkin’s Festival” in the Spanish city of San Sebastián was met with protesters this past summer — older moviegoers there seem more accepting.
The cases of Louis C.K. and Parker are different, as are the levels of their renown. According to Louis C.K.’s website, he has sold out coming shows in Italy, Israel, Switzerland, Slovakia and Hungary, as well as domestically in Detroit and Houston. Whether this is a bellwether of a comeback is another matter: A Los Angeles Times reporter recently bought a ticket to one of the comedian’s sold-out shows in Virginia for $4, which suggested scalpers misjudged audience appetite.
Parker, on the other hand, is barely known internationally, with a directing career that was stopped short before it ever really began. “No one knows him, outside of the industry, in Germany or Switzerland,” said Christoph Daniel, managing director of Berlin-based indie distribution company DCM. And, he said, promoting any American film rested heavily on how it fared domestically.
“If there’s no U.S. release, it’s harder to release the film,” Daniel said.
Leonard Maltin, the longtime television critic and film historian, said there were a few precedents where a filmmaker or star was more or less canceled because of scandals, among them silent film actor Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, who was tried on manslaughter charges and widely accused in newspapers of rape. Though Arbuckle was acquitted, his career never recovered.
“I’m not questioning the sources of these scandals or the misdeeds of the people who generated them,” Maltin said. “I find myself asking, ‘Where do we go from here?'”
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines