Senior ANDY Editor
I have grown up loving Woody Allen. I have been inspired by his ability for storytelling, by his witty humour, his incredible creativity. I have found his films emotionally engaging, intellectually stimulating, and entertaining for their beautiful cinematography and vibrant settings. My love for Woody has grown and developed over the years and has allowed me to negotiate complicated ideas. I can relate to many of his female characters while also being critical of the way they have been portrayed. I can find his love stories funny and honest but also unrealistic and weird. I can be comforted by having human anxieties articulated but also accepting of the undeniable condescension of those some narratives. I have read his biographies, watched the documentaries about him, and even looked beyond his cinema at his ventures into theatre and literature. He has been an important creative role model in my life and I stand first in line for every new film (which is an admirable feat considering how prolific the man is). But now I feel lost and disgusted, both with myself and with Woody.
This past weekend, Dylan Farrow, 28, the adopted daughter of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, released a scathing letter that accuses her father of sexually molesting her when she was seven. In it, she throws down the gauntlet to the entire Hollywood establishment, which has recently honoured Mr. Allen for a lifetime of achievement. Anyone who’s a friend of Mr. Allen, she charged, is no friend of sexually abused children. Of course, in the days that have followed, articles have surfaced with details of the story that support Woody, or at least complicate the issue. At the time of the alleged abuse, he and Mia Farrow were locked in a custody fight. She was furious over his affair with Soon-Yi (her 21-year-old adopted daughter) and Allen believes that Mia coached Dylan to tell the abuse story. There is evidence to back him up. Dylan’s story changed several times, the doctors found no physical damage at the time, and Allen’s psychiatric and lie-detector tests support his stance. Mia has been cited as being unstable, and she apparently sent Woody a Valentine’s card that told him, “You took my daughter, and I am going to take yours.”
Of course, none of this information is particularly compelling. Woody Allen is rich and powerful, and his influence almost certainly helped his case. This would not be the first time that a celebrity has evaded criminal charges through their position. And calling Mia crazy and unstable is not a new defense against women seeking to resist injustice, and for me, the sexism undermines its validity. Abuse victims have always been silenced by our society and regularly blamed for their traumas. It would be easy for me to call upon Woody’s defense in an attempt to reassure myself that it is okay to keep liking him. I could use the additional information that the headlines have likely purposefully excluded and tell myself that I can carry on – both Woody and his fans are innocent until proven guilty! While this might allow me to remain selfishly steadfast in my love for the man and his work, it would be shallow and hypocritical. If I can recognize at least some of the hegemonic structures at work in this story, I cannot simply discount them because they involve an artist who has deeply influenced me.
So what now then? How to reconcile the possibility that a brilliant artist might actually be a horrible man? The question of should we and could we separate the art from the artist has always been with us. From Roman Polanksi to Coco Chanel to Pablo Neruda to Orson Scott Card to Wagner to Esra Pound to T.S. Eliot. Anti-Semitism turns up so often in the résumés of 20th-century artists that it almost seems part of the job description.
Perhaps it’s relevant to consider the extent of immorality. Is a rapist more deplorable than a racist? A misogynist worse than a homophobe? A child molester worse than a murderer? Maybe in the case of comparing a psychopath to a sexist the seriousness of the crime becomes relevant. But otherwise, the area is so gray and so subjective that these debates of moral relativism are likely not relevant.
It’s easy to point out that in the case of the artist, badness or goodness is a moral quality or judgment; in the case of the art goodness and badness are terms of aesthetic merit, to which morality does not apply. But it seems confusing and contradictory. When you experience art, it seems ennobling. It challenges our assumptions, changes our discriminations, broadens our horizons, and indirectly asks us to be more sensitive, human, vulnerable, honest. Surely, we imagine, art makes us better people. And if art has this power over those simply experience it, then it must have endowed something far more inspirational in the creator of the art. Clearly this is not necessarily the case.
Woody Allen has a new film coming out and I was looking forward to seeing it. Especially since it’s starring Emma Stone and she seems perfect for an Allen script. I want to support the art, but not the artist. But this is impossible – the two seem inextricable. It will be easier to draw the lines when Woody dies, but given that he’s going strong at seventy-four, this is not currently a viable (hah) option. And what kind of person does that make me, wishing death upon someone so I can go to the movies?