The Memo: Roman Polanski defamation trial kicks off in Paris

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Roman Polanski defamation trial kicks off in Paris

Tyler Rigby - 12 March 2024

Oscar winning director Roman Polanski has been in self-imposed exile in Europe since he was found guilty of raping 13-year-old Samantha Gailey in 1977. He fled the United States upon discovering the judge intended to serve him a jail sentence for the crime and he hasn’t looked back since. Despite the auteur purporting this as an isolated incident, Polanski has become one of the most high-profile accused men during the #MeToo movement. More accusations have piled in from women – some of whom were as young as ten at the time of knowing him – detailing his crimes against them. One such woman is Charlotte Lewis, who in 2010 alleged that Polanski sexually assaulted her during a casting meeting in 1983 when she was just 16.

As the filmmaker has done with each accusation, he rejected Lewis’s claims outright. In a 2019 interview, Polanski claimed that Lewis was the one who “desired him more,” citing an interview she had done in 1999. That brings us to today, as Polanski is now standing trial for libel for stating that Lewis had lied about the assault. Lewis, meanwhile, has pointed to the great distress caused to her by the media and others after Polanski’s 2019 interview as grounds for her suit against him. Polanski did not attend the first day of the hearing and neither did his lawyer.

The trial will generate much attention as it will be seen as potentially the last chance for the 90-year-old fugitive to face some kind of justice. Polanski has not experienced the same career repercussions as some of his fellow #MeToo cohort and continues to make films to this day. As recently as 2020, Polanski won the best director award at France’s prestigious Oscar analogue, the Cesars. France refuses to extradite Polanski to the US and, as growing calls for accountability of the French film industry continue to permeate, Polanski’s trail may turn into a focal point for that discourse.