Famed (and infamous) director Roman Polanski has announced that his next film project will be D, a political thriller based on the real-life tale of Alfred Dreyfus, the French Jew wrongly imprisoned for spying at the turn of the century. What drew him to the topic? Its theme of antisemitism? Perversely, it is about a persecuted minority – just not the one you might think.
The creative force behind such films as Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown, and The Pianist among many others, Polanski pled guilty to raping an underage girl in 1977, then fled the United States for the protection of France’s non-extradition law. There his filmmaking career has thrived and he has lived the high life of a revered artist. The list of awards and honors bestowed upon him and his films is towering; he is even the recipient of France’s highest civilian honor, the Legion d’Honneur, alongside such notables as Gen. George Patton, Victor Hugo, and, coincidentally, Dreyfus himself.
Polanski and his apologists consider his fugitive status to be nothing more than petty persecution on the part of Puritanical Americans who don’t understand that a great artist should be above the law. So when Polanski was in Switzerland to attend the Zurich Film Festival in 2009 and was put temporarily under chateau arrest at the behest of the U.S., French Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterrand gave vent to melodramatic outrage:
To see him thrown to the lions and put in prison because of ancient history — and as he was traveling to an event honoring him — is absolutely horrifying. There’s an America we love and an America that scares us, and it’s that latter America that has just shown us its face.
(Mitterand should be comforted to know that back here in scary America, Polanski is still supported by Hollywood sophisticates who rush to the defense of a sex offender but who would be absolutely horrified, as Mitterand might put it, to find themselves in the same zip code with a Republican.)
L’Affaire Dreyfus is one of the most “sensational political scandals and miscarriages of justice in history,” as D’s press release describes it. In the late 1890s Capt. Dreyfus was one of the few Jewish officers in the French Army. Accused of passing secrets to Germany, he was railroaded into life imprisonment until he was finally cleared of all charges twelve years later.
When asked how he was able to get inside the head and heart of his fictional heroine of Madame Bovary so convincingly, novelist Gustave Flaubert explained, “Madame Bovary, c’est moi.” Similarly, Marc Tracy of Tablet Magazine believes that, in the director’s own mind, Polanski sees himself as Dreyfus, unfairly targeted because of his Jewishness. Novelist Gore Vidal, who “was in the middle of all that” sexual scandal (and who wrote the screenplay for the 1958 film I Accuse! starring Jose Ferrer as Dreyfus), agrees: “Anti-Semitism got poor Polanski.” Tracy discredits the comparison:
The Dreyfus Affair (we know in retrospect) involved the deliberately false accusation, by means of forgery, that an innocent had committed a real crime. Dreyfus was a total innocent.… [To] conjure the Dreyfus Affair… cheapens the legacy of the episode that most exemplified all the dangers of anti-Semitism, and therefore cheapens anti-Semitism itself.
But what does Polanski himself say about his motivation? “I have long wanted to make a film about the Dreyfus Affair,” he says, “treating it not as a costume drama but as a spy story”:
In this way one can show its absolute relevance to what is happening in today’s world – the age-old spectacle of the witch-hunt of a minority group, security paranoia, secret military tribunals, out-of-control intelligence agencies, governmental cover-ups and a rabid press.
Seriously? A metaphor for the “war on terror”?
It was weak enough when an increasingly propagandist filmmaker like Robert Redford turned the trial of the Lincoln assassination conspirators into a war-on-terror metaphor with his predictably unsuccessful The Conspirator. But the Dreyfus Affair?
What Polanski means by “the witch-hunt of a minority group,” is, of course, Muslims, whom many presume are chafing under the lash of counter-jihad security measures and a tide of “Islamophobic” bigotry. In fact, European Islamists and their apologists have been actively promoting the meme that they are “the new Jews,” as even a British Muslim Member of Parliament put it. This shameless claim to the same victimhood status as the targets of Nazi genocide ignores the obvious reality that not even a “tiny minority” of Jews in Nazi Germany were carrying out terror attacks, nor were they striving to destroy European culture and democracy to replace them with a totalitarian theocracy.
Who is persecuting Muslims? Certainly not the American or European governments, which turn a blind eye to the rise in the West of honor killings, sharia, and Saudi-funded mega-mosques spreading extremism. Unlike Jews in Nazi Germany, Muslims today are not being deprived of their rights, their businesses, or their homes; nor are they being herded into concentration camps to make genocide cheaper and more efficient.
Certainly not the news or entertainment media, who bend over backward to avoid stereotyping Muslims and to avoid linking acts of terrorism to Islamic theology, despite the terrorists’ own insistence otherwise.
And certainly not ordinary citizens either. According to the most recent (2010) FBI hate crime statistics, anti-Islamic hate crimes in the U.S. accounted for only 12.1% of those motivated by religion. Hate crimes targeting Jews, however, comprise 67.1% of those – two-thirds of the total, despite the fact that the Jewish population in America is no more than 2.5 times as large as the Muslim population. In fifteen years (1996-2010) of online FBI reports, not a single Muslim has been killed for being Muslim.
Perhaps D really is driven by Polanski’s identification with Dreyfus and not the purported persecution of Muslims. But to make a movie about an iconic incident of French Jew-hatred and spin it into a symbol of anti-Muslim victimization at a time when Islamic Jew-hatred itself is spiking in France and throughout Europe is repellent. Remember that Polanski’s adopted country was the scene of the recent butchery of a rabbi and his two children (among others) in Toulouse at the hands of jihadist Mohammed Merah, who has since become a heroic martyr among his sympathizers; a Rouen schoolteacher, for example, called for a moment of silence in class in memory of the vile Merah, who died attempting to shoot his way through French police to freedom.
For a Jew to defend an inherently antisemitic ideology is bad enough. One would think that, as the rapist of a 13 year old, Polanski would also think twice about publicly defending an inherently misogynistic ideology that sanctions gender apartheid and the sexual abuse of children throughout the Islamic world.
Whether D will be about Roman Polanski as Dreyfus, or Muslims as the new Jews, or perhaps even both, celebrated auteur Polanski has it wrong. Dreyfus was innocent; Polanski was not. And the persecuted minority today is not Muslim but, as always, Jewish.