a life in the shadow of roman polanski: ‘i’m not a victim’
On 2 October this year, Samantha Geimer appeared on The Project promoting her autobiography The Girl: A Life in the Shadow of Roman Polanski. In this interview, Geimer piqued my interest in purchasing and reading her book, not just because her story with Roman Polanski has been untold for many years, but also due to some of the potentially worrisome attitudes that she maintained throughout the interview to do with what had happened to her in 1977. In this interview, she seemingly waves off insinuations of ongoing trauma and loss of her innocence with the fact that what had happened to her ‘happened a long time ago’ and that she bears no grudges against Polanski. The interviewers were clearly shocked with this attitude, rightly suggesting that this seemingly lax attitude towards sexual assault could be sending the wrong message to other victims – at which point, she stands firm on the fact that she is not a victim.
Like the interviewers, at the time of seeing this interview, I was shocked by her attitude and I was worried about the implications that it could have, given the continual high profile nature of the case, and how it could impact upon viewers in the same situation. I knew that I wanted to write about this interview, this case and Geimer herself, but beforehand, I knew also that I would have to read her book. Although such autobiographies are notoriously sketchy, have the potential to be inflated and ghost-written by people with vendettas and ulterior motives, I was still curious to learn more details about why Geimer is the way she is today, and her motivations behind this viewing of herself.
For those who are unaware of the exact details of Geimer’s story, here’s an extremely brief version.
In March 1977, the famous and critically acclaimed director behind such films as Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby, Roman Polanski, was accused of raping a minor. That minor was Samantha Geimer (then Samantha Gailey). Further to this, he was also charged with the use of drugs, perversion, sodomy, unlawful sexual acts with a minor, as well as furnishing controlled substances to a minor. Eventually, Polanski plead guilty to these charges.
Initially, the public’s reaction to these charges was something of a halfway split – somewhere between taking the view that Geimer was something of a tempting, Lolita-like seductress who was only taking the matter to the courts in order to extract money from Polanski, who was a sympathetic media figure, given the fact that his wife, Sharon Tate had recently been murdered whilst pregnant by the Manson gang; or that Polanski was a disturbed paedophile who needed to be locked away from society for as long as possible for what he did to such an innocent, unwitting victim. In her autobiography, as well as in later interviews, Geimer does not identify herself as a helpless victim; she in fact scorns the view by any member of society that Polanski even be imprisoned for a large period of time for what he did.
Further details of the case emerged, consistent with what was told in The Girl: that Polanski had asked Geimer’s mother if he could photograph Samantha as part of his work for French Vogue, and she allowed a private photoshoot. Geimer admitted to feeling uncomfortable during this photoshoot, where she posed topless, and initially did not want to partake in a second photoshoot. She nevertheless agreed, and this second shoot took place at actor Jack Nicholson’s house in the Mulholland area of Los Angeles. During the time Polanski and Geimer were at the home, Nicholson was away on holidays, but his live-in girlfriend, Anjelica Houston was there, but left when Polanski insisted that they were finishing up the shoot (she later had to testify in court). During the shoot, Polanski took photos of Geimer drinking champagne (despite being legally under the age limit), in a Jacuzzi mostly naked, and they shared a Quaalude (a sedative-hypnotic drug). After they had finished with taking the photos (many of these images appear in The Girl in their original black and white, which are, admittedly, extremely uncomfortable to view), Polanski took her into a bedroom and, despite Geimer’s ongoing protests and resistance, performed unlawful sexual acts on her, and then took her back to her home.
In The Girl, Geimer speaks more about the trauma the ensuing legal and courtroom battles would inflict upon her than from the actual incident itself. Despite an obvious downplaying of the assault, this is understandable – Geimer details a celebrity-obsessed judge insisting upon dragging out the case as much as possible, as well as Polanski’s fleeing the country in response to the threat of imprisonment to England, and then France, where he could avoid extradition back to the United States, through to the event which triggered the writing of the book, Polanski’s arrest in Zurich in September 2009 in relation to his arrest warrant from 1978. It’s understandable that given Polanski’s high media profile that Geimer would suffer trauma from having something incredibly private, embarrassing and traumatic being played out on international media, particularly as she surrendered her anonymity and found herself also being hounded by the media.
Throughout the book, Geimer continues to insist that she is not a victim; at times even stating that she feels sympathy for Polanski. I think that this is largely due to the hugely negative and patronising connotations society surround with the word “victim”. But, whether she likes it or not, she was only thirteen at the time. A child. A child who should never have had that happen to her. Despite her probable best intentions in writing the book, she paints Polanski as a man who, despite being well loved by the public as being an “artiste”, is deeply disturbed, sad, selfish and downright creepy, and any sympathy for him generated solely from this view is unjustifiable. Of course, it is Samantha’s own story, and she should never be dictated about how to feel about anything in her own life. Her honesty, courage and strength in writing and publishing the book is admirable. In the end, the book will really speak for itself, and probably only solidify one’s feelings towards this case one way or another after having read it. I know it did for me.