Roman Polanski's ''The Pianist'' may have boosted its Oscar chances with an endorsement of sorts from an unlikely source: the woman at the center of the statutory rape case that led Polanski to flee the U.S. 25 years ago. Samantha Geimer went public with her name and her story on Sunday with a signed op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times titled, ''Judge the Movie, Not the Man,'' in which she urged moviegoers and Oscar voters to rate the film on its own merits, not on the crime of the director who had sex with her against her will when she was 13.
As Geimer recounts, Polanski invited her to Jack Nicholson's house for a photo session, then gave her champagne and a piece of a Quaalude. ''Then he took advantage of me.'' She pressed charges, and he pleaded guilty. She recalls that her lawyer, his lawyer, and prosecutors reached a plea agreement to sentence Polanski to time served, but she says the judge reneged on the deal, leading Polanski to flee to France to avoid a possible 50-year sentence. The 69-year-old filmmaker has never returned to the U.S., and Los Angeles prosecutors have said he would face arrest if he were to, say, show up at the Kodak Theater on Oscar night.
Renewed attention to Polanski in the wake of ''Pianist'''s Academy Award prospects -- in addition to its seven Oscar nominations, this weekend it won Best Picture and Best Director at the U.K.'s BAFTA awards and swept the French Cesars with seven wins -- has led to renewed interview requests for Geimer, now 38 and a married mother of three living in Hawaii. She says of the director, ''I don't really have any hard feelings toward him, or any sympathy, either. He is a stranger to me. But I believe that Mr. Polanski and his film should be honored according to the quality of the work. What he does for a living and how good he is at it have nothing to do with me or what he did to me.''
Geimer has talked about her ordeal in the past, but anonymously. By going public -- she is also scheduled to appear Monday on CNN's ''Larry King Live'' -- she hopes that Polanski can have his legal troubles resolved and return to the U.S., as the original plea agreement stipulated. ''I hope that would mean I'd never have to talk about this again,'' she writes. ''Sometimes I feel like we both got a life sentence.''