I have realised that whenever I read the news nowadays, there is always a new story or article that sends me spiraling into either confusion, anger or grief. A few weeks ago, while I was scrolling through my Instagram feed, I discovered that many of my classmates had posted about Roman Polanski and his recent best director win at the 2020 César Awards. As I go to university in France, on a campus with a higher proportion of female students, the news struck quite a chord especially in light of a movement at my university involving the sharing of various sexual assault testimonies on an extensive and vast cohort Facebook group as well as a case of sexual assault on campus that I had become quite involved in.
Upon reading the post and many of the press releases about the event, I began to think deeper about the dialogues and discussions surrounding and pertaining to sexual assault and violence against women and how perverse and entrenched victim-blaming, censorship and rape culture still continue to be in our environments.
The Implications of Polanski’s Recent Win
As we all know, Roman Polanski is a controversial award-winning director who has been charged with multiple cases of sexual assault and rape over the past 40 or so years across both Europe, as well as the United States. His latest film, An Officer and a Spy, has more than 12 nominations for the César Awards this year.
Within minutes of the announcement, the trending hashtag, ‘Les César de la honte’, the Cesars of shame, began to spread on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook and attracted backlash from many famous actresses. Adele Haenel walked out of the awards show, ‘Bravo, la pédophilie’ or ‘Well done Pedophilia,’ as she stormed out, especially as she was a victim of sexual assault herself, having recently revealed how directorChristophe Ruggiahad sexually assaulted her when she was making her first movie at the age of 12. Even before the ceremony, shortly before his nomination, many women’s and activist groupshad vowed to protest about the event.
The recent events once again prove, that despite the success and spotlight that #MeToo has on the entertainment industry, the regressive narrative of undermining and invalidating the victim is still trumpeted by film elites and rape culture still continues to cast a dark shadow on the stories and struggles of victims across the film industry.
Impunity and the entrenched culture of victim-blaming continue to further exacerbate the hold that power, influence and privilege continue to have in protecting and shielding the rich and powerful from being accountable for their actions.
Impunity and the entrenched culture of victim-blaming continue to further exacerbate the hold that power, influence and privilege continue to have in protecting and shielding the rich and powerful from being accountable for their actions, as was in the case of Polanski. In order to combat this problem, it is essential for the legal system to catch up with the current socio-political environment and the gains of the current #MeToo Movement. Not only will this catalyse change in the film industry, but it will also help fight and address issues like sexual harassment in educational institutions and the workplace as well as reporting and filing sexual assault complaints.
The news also comes around the time of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, and right before the 2020 Women’s Marches, which in fact, seems to even undermine the development of the women’s and feminist movements and hinder the current progress and power of #MeToo in the west. It also comes as a shock after the trial and 23-year prison sentence of Harvey Weinstein, which was considered to be the pinnacle of the #MeToo success.
Analysing the Bollywood Setting
The resurfacing and unraveling of the recent Polanski case also further highlights the systemic problem and interplay of power, influence and violence, and puts the issue into the perspective of the Indian film industry, particularly Bollywood and the way in which sexual assault is dealt with in the film industry. The Bollywood setting is of course too narrow in scope for the broader and wider issue at hand across the Indian film industry, but it sure is representational of the power influential and famous individuals have in our legal institutions as well as our society.
The past two years have been vital for the film industry, especially with the spotlight on very high profile cases and figures in the film industry. The echoes of the #MeToo Movement has gained considerable traction in India, particularly in the past two years, beginning with the accusations against Nana Patekar and director Vivek Agnihotri by Tanushree Dutta while filming a movie back in 2008. Dutta mentioned that despite having brought up the complaint during the time, no action was taken.
In June 2019, Rajkumar Hirani, the director famously known for 3 Idiots was accused of multiple counts of sexual assault. Yet, even though more women like Dutta are finding the opportunity and courage to speak up, many still continue to stand up and show their unconditional support for people like Hirani owing to the network of power, connections and influence they have in their arsenal.
The resurfacing and unraveling of the recent POLANSKI case also further highlights the systemic problem and interplay of power, influence and violence, and puts the issue into the perspective of the Indian film industry, particularly Bollywood and the way in which sexual assault is dealt with in the film industry.
Moreover, back in an interview in 2015, actor Ranveer Singh also revealed that ‘casting couch’ was a persistent problem in Bollywood and is often never talked about and pushed under the rug. In the film industry, the term ‘casting couch’ refers to when filmmakers or directors use their clout to demand sexual favours from actors and actresses to guarantee them a job. In Bollywood, however, young women still continue to be adversely impacted by this toxic culture, even in the face of the global #MeToo Movement.
The #MeToo Movement in India has proven to be a strong complement to the social and political discourse of the Nirbhaya case as well, with the Nirbhaya fund even being established to better address sexual abuse and assault in society. However, even though the post-Nirbhaya and #MeToo era have played a pivotal role in bringing discussions surrounding rape and sexual assault to the forefront, #MeToo still has further headway to make in other facets of Indian society and is, for now, confined mainly to the entertainment and film industry.
Overall, the #MeToo continues to be an important and significant force in Indian society especially as it is indeed a trailblazing force for free and open discussions and shaping public opinion about violence and abuse, as well as crumbling the stigma and bulwarks associated with these conversations.
Featured Image Source: The Telegraph