Roman Polanski and the 'Artists' Minister': American Criminal Law v. French Cultural Diplomacy

46 Pages Posted: 12 Aug 2016

See all articles by Julien Mailland

Julien Mailland

Indiana University Bloomington - Department of Telecommunications; University of Southern California - Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism

Date Written: August 10, 2016


In 1977, famed Hollywood director Roman Polanski was convicted by a California court of unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year old he had drugged. The night before the sentencing hearing, he fled to France where, as a French citizen, he was immune from deportation and would spend the next thirty years as a fugitive. In 2009, Polanski was arrested in Switzerland at the bequest of the United States.

The arrest triggered a violent reaction from the French executive branch and intellectual elites, and caused a still-ongoing disagreement between France and the U.S. This case study of the international imbroglio reveals a profound misunderstanding. While French elites fail to understand the importance of the rule of law in American society, U.S. jurists and international political scholars fail to understand the significance of French operational code — a set of political beliefs originating from the cultural matrix of a society.

This case study occurs within the general comparative-law methodological framework of immersion. Immersion calls for the practice of legal hermeneutics and requires the study of politics, economics, and ethnography as integral to the understanding of any given legal system. Within this framework, I contribute foreign policy analysis and international communication theory in order to reveal the cultural meaning hidden behind the hermetic legal case and to further mutual understanding between American and French jurists and international political scholars.

Specifically, I argue that the French executive branch and intellectual elites perceived American international criminal procedure efforts to arrest Polanski in Switzerland as an assault by Hollywood against French culture. In addition, the attempt by the U.S. to seize Polanski was perceived as an attack against France on the international scene — in particular, as an attempt to hinder France’s civilizing mission and the projection of its universalist mode through culture and cinema.

This case study also highlights a fundamental irony in France’s position: the fact that the self-crowned spearhead against U.S. hegemony in the international legal order only relies on Gramscian arguments to better ground and justify its own civilizing mission, that is, cultural imperialism. In the end, the comparative legal analysis shows that for America, this is a criminal case of California v. Polanski, but for France, this is an international law and politics case of U.S. v. France taking place in the realm of the arts.

Keywords: Polanski, France, Operational Code, International Communication

Suggested Citation

Mailland, Julien, Roman Polanski and the 'Artists' Minister': American Criminal Law v. French Cultural Diplomacy (August 10, 2016). ASU Sports & Entertainment Law Journal, Vol. 5, No. 2, 2016, Available at SSRN:

Julien Mailland (Contact Author)

Indiana University Bloomington - Department of Telecommunications ( email )

Bloomington, IN 47405
United States


University of Southern California - Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism ( email )

3502 Watt Way, Suite 304
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States

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