Libel trial against Roman Polański: unresolved despite verdict

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Written By Maya Cantina

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Charlotte Lewis has accused Roman Polanski of sexual abuse. The director speaks of lying; he has now won the defamation case.

Charlotte Lewis

Lost to director Roman Polański: actress Charlotte Lewis in Paris on Tuesday Photo: Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters

BERLIN taz | Trauma does not go away, it often even becomes permanent: according to her own statements, British actress Charlotte Lewis suffered from it as a teenager. She was 16 and had met Roman Polański through a friend.

The director, already world famous for excellent films such as ‘Chinatown’ and ‘The Tenant’, had been on the run a few years earlier to avoid a verdict rape and drugging a 13-year-old girl moved to Paris. Lewis revealed through a lawyer in 2010 that Polański had sexually assaulted her in 1983 in his Paris apartment.

Accusations of rape are dismissed as a ‘one-off event’.

Lewis subsequently developed an eating disorder, she said in 2010. She felt ashamed, guilty and even “responsible” for the then 50-year-old’s actions. The fact that she went public at all, without officially filing a lawsuit, is due to the fact that the rape allegations from the 1970s were dismissed by Polański’s lawyers as a “one-off event”.

The response was not long in coming: a French newspaper found an alleged interview from 1999 in which Lewis reported a voluntary, self-initiated relationship with the director lasting several months.

In the lawsuit brought by Lewis against Polański, the actress lost on Tuesday in the Paris criminal court. It was a matter of defamation – the director had accused her of lying, Lewis said. He referred to the interview that she said was misquoted. Polański was not there.

It is certainly significant if the relationship between the then 16-year-old and the 50-year-old had actually been consensual: in Europe the ‘age of consent’ varies, with sex with another person being assumed to occur at the same time or an older age can be agreed. In France that is 15 years, it does not matter how much older a partner is. As well as the power imbalance one has with the #MeToo movement by terms such as “toxic relationship“or “care”.

Lewis even went to Cannes with Polański

Lewis, now 56, is from north London. She left school at 15, worked as a model at 16 and wanted to become an actress. After the traumatic encounters with Polański, she decided to take part in a screen test for his next film: “It was an opportunity, my family was struggling financially,” she told an American media outlet. The director gave the newcomer the female lead in his action film ‘Pirates’ in 1986 and even took her to Cannes. Polański’s advocates are now using this against her too.

After “Pirates,” Lewis co-starred with Eddie Murphy in the critically panned film “The Golden Child,” and she continued to appear in more or less successful works until the 1990s, usually as a love object. Lewis’ mediocre success largely came to a halt in the 2000s. After her statements against Polański in 2010, seven years before #metoo, Lewis felt harassed by the press, she said, and her son had to change schools.

Despite the verdict, the Polański/Lewis case remains unresolved. When it comes to sexual abuse, reliable witness statements are rare and institutional failure usually comes at the expense of the victims. During the Cannes Film Festival Once again attention was drawn to this complaint.

Jenni Zylka

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