Is It Still OK to Like Alleged Child Molester Woody Allen?
As a child, my first celebrity crush was on Woody Allen, which, in light of the recent child fucking allegations against him, seems appropriate. It isn't as appropriate, however, as it would be if I were his child.
As a child, my first celebrity crush was on Woody Allen, which, in light of the recent child fucking allegations against him, seems appropriate. It isn't as appropriate, however, as it would be if I were his (albeit de facto) child. We all know he famously married Soon-Yi Previn, the adopted daughter of his longtime partner Mia Farrow. And we know, or at least we should know, that Dylan Farrow, the daughter he and Mia jointly adopted, claims she was molested by him. In spite of these transgressions, Allen just received a lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes. And, sure, I made an obligatorily shitty tweet about it afterward, but in the grand scheme of things, why did I bother? I, like many of my peers, still hang Allen-related ephemera on my walls. What else does he have to do, how many more lives does he have to ruin, before I take down that Manhattan poster above my desk?
Immediately after Allen's nod from the Hollywood Foreign Press, Ronan Farrow, sibling of Dylan and Soon-Yi, tweeted, "Missed the Woody Allen tribute—did they put the part where a woman publicly confirmed he molested her at age 7 before or after Annie Hall?" Untold media outlets since have reported on the snark of Farrow's tweet; none, however, have analyzed the reasons behind his deserved snark. I myself have no answers. All I have are questions. In a world wide web filled with righteous indignation about every goddamned slight a person with a modicum of success commits, why are people only now paying attention to Allen's crimes? R. Kelly, another infamous predator, recently found himself on the wrong end of the blogosphere for his crimes. Why was it OK for writers to admonish Kelly via dozens of think pieces, but not Allen? Is it because Kelly is a living joke, an absurdist parody of an R&B artist, incapable of making something worthy of rivaling the perceived perfection that is Annie Hall? Woody Allen is a comedian, sure, but his oeuvre is considered art more than entertainment; his aforementioned lifetime achievement award proves that. Trapped in the Closet is a joke; Manhattan is a masterpiece.
In light of the events of last evening, I'm sure today will bring an onslaught of think pieces on this very subject. But why weren't there countless others in the months proceeding November's Vanity Fair piece in which Dylan, now a fully grown woman, came forward and embraced her voice and the validity of the claims she was too scared to make on the stand as a terrified seven year old? Why does an ancillary event, something wholly unrelated to the situation at hand, need to happen in order for people to give a shit?
Photo by Kelly Rose
Two months ago, after the Vanity Fair piece, I attended a screening of Hannah and Her Sisters, a film in which Dylan Farrow appears to ask why and how Allen's devoted fan base continues to support their nebbishly nefarious boy prince in light of his misdeeds. Why do these people still consider him a legend? And how does, given the circumstances, he continually pack revival houses and receive awards? For two months, I let the article go unwritten, a document filled with loose thoughts on my desktop. Why did I sit on it for so long? Was it because my indignation was, as of a handful of hours ago, deemed irrelevant?
"It's kind of hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that 179 of the world's most captivating actresses have appeared in Woody Allen's films. And there's a reason for this. And the reason is, they wanted to. They wanted to because Woody's women can't be compartmentalized. They struggle, they love, they fall apart, they dominate, they're flawed. They are, in fact, the hallmark of Woody's work. But what's even more remarkable is absolutely nothing links these unforgettable characters from the fact that they came from the mind of Woody Allen."
- Diane Keaton, accepting Allen's Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award on his behalf
Allen didn't care about his lifetime achievement award. Hell, he didn't even fucking want it. After all, he didn't bother to show up and retrieve it. So why, then, did the Hollywood Foreign Press bother to give it? At the same ceremony, Cate Blanchett received her very own Golden Globe for her performance in Blue Jasmine as a thinly veiled, passive-aggressively written Mia surrogate constructed, in the mind of Allen, to appear as a worse person for looking the other way at her partner's indiscretions than the partner himself. It was a cruel fuck you to Farrow, the woman who used to be his muse, the uncompartmentalized protagonist of his pictures before he unceremoniously said "fuck you" by marrying one of her children. Was that "fuck you" not enough? Isn't his continual success, his status as an untouchable legend, an icon, an award-winning artist, enough?
It was easy for us to ignore Allen's dalliance and marriage to Soon Yi because the whole affair was consensual. To the extent, of course, that a surrogate father fucking his partner's learning-disabled, adopted daughter can be consensual. The argument could be made that Soon-Yi, a voiceless minority from a war-torn country, is a non-entity, not like the untold black girls R. Kelly allegedly desecrated. While that says something abhorrent about how society at large views (or chooses not to view) "the other," it makes sense. There's a reason why these women are disenfranchised, compartmentalized; why their dismissal by society and the blogosphere at large is a troubling reality. But Dylan was not "the other." She was a frightened, abused, white girl. A white girl! Don't people care about abused little white girls? Isn't it all they care about? When it came to the blind eye the public turned to R. Kelly's crimes, Mark Anthony Neal, the African-American scholar, pointed out, "one white girl in Winnetka and the story would have been different." Why didn't Dylan's overwhelming personhood, in spite of it all, make things different?
But back to me, fearfully standing in front of the Aero Theater in Santa Monica two months ago, trying to muster up the courage to ask people why they continued to lionize Allen. It was your typical revival house crowd, filled with rich, white, urbane, literate types. If anywhere west of the Mississippi was Allen's target demo, the Aero was. I found myself too nervous to approach people because the subject I wanted to broach was so taboo. No one talked about it because no one wanted to; they prefer to let the ancient art, the classics, speak for themselves. Which, I supposed, was all well and good. But if people preferred his "earlier, funnier works," why did they also allow him to make later, darker, more misanthropic ones given the circumstances? And why did they award him, or at least his actors, for doing so? And what was he still so goddamned embittered about? He beat the rap, for Christ's sake. He married one daughter, allegedly molested another, and didn't have to flee the country like Polanski in order to do so. (I suppose he did, in a way, flee the country, preferring to make the majority of his films overseas, but on his own volition, which could be considered a by-product of his misanthropy.) That was a goddamned victory, right?
Watching a young couple walk hand-in-hand into the theater, I thought, maybe educated moviegoers give him a pass because they "luff" his earlier work. In the Vanity Fair interview, Dylan described a panic attack she had in college, instigated because she saw a fellow student in a Woody Allen shirt; said shirt, of course, surely must have been emblazoned with a vintage image of Allen. While we still award his modern output, no one walks around in a shirt with the man's 80-something-year-old visage on it. After all, American Apparel didn't illegally use an image from Blue Jasmine on its billboards; they used an image from Annie Hall. The drama with Dylan happened when Allen shirt-sporters were infants.
A friend of a friend, once I told him what I was trying to accomplish by being at the Aero, didn't actively tell me to shove it. Instead, he gave me the brush-off I knew so well. "By that rationale," he argued, "you could write off Picasso and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle." I told him I was chickening out, finding myself unable to ask the questions I came to ask. "I don't blame you," he replied. "That's a brave question, especially for a place like this." His response was standard protocol, the ol' excuse of "art existing for art's sake." The "quality of someone's artistic output is often times good enough to negate and overshadow every other component of their lives" argument; good enough to warrant a lifetime achievement award. Where and how, however, does one draw the line? When does a person's (usually a man, natch) artistic prowess negate the gravity of their awful acts? Is it OK that Phil Spector killed that woman because she'd never be able to produce anything as beautiful as "Be My Baby"? Allen's classic pictures specialized in urban tales of modern romance; pedophilia, however, is a tale as old as time, especially when it comes to "artists." Is that why he got a pass?
Being too nervous to speak the words, to ask the questions, made sense. I had to be intoxicated in order to bring up the subject in a party environment, and even then I was shut down nine out of ten times with a "him molesting her was never proven" or "I don't know, I don't really think about it." Before leaving the theater, I approached a nondescript white guy in his late 20s holding a coffee. I asked him how he was still able to reconcile Allen's films in light of his misdeeds. "I don't know," he said. "I don't really think about it." No shit.
Crimes and Misdemeanors is my favorite Woody Allen picture; in it, the protagonist literally gets away with murder, his only punishment being he has to live with himself and the reality of what he's done. Fitting, sure, but all the more easy to do if no one cares about your crimes in the first place.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Woody Allen had impregnated Soon Yi. Instead, their children are adopted.
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