What Do I Do About Woody Allen?

Allegations, accusations, disclosures, confessions, denials, court transcripts, police reports, whisper networks, public statements, purges, pulled movies, cancelled shows, stone cold silence, people taking to Twitter, people taking Twitter hiatuses.  We are being splattered daily with this onslaught from Hollywood. This is nothing new.  Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, Mike Tyson, OJ Simpson, Bill Cosby-to name only a few–all exist in the annals of powerful men who have perpetrated gender-based violence and escaped social pariah-hood.  Far from becoming persona non grata, these men have gone on to gather worshipers, accolades, power, and money.  But the onslaught is new.  New accusations litter my Twitterfeed, each less shocking than the one that came before.  Unlike in the case of mass shootings, where family, friends, and neighbours often register utter shock and complete ignorance, this deluge of accusations has been accompanied by knowing nods and corroborations.

There are different categories for these men.  There are those who have been convicted, there are those who have confessed, and there are those who deny and could not or have not been tried in a court of law.  The American judicial system is flawed, and this is particularly true in the case of sexual assault, but certainly, the least we can say is that men who have been criminally convicted are almost certainly guilty.  We can at least say this.  But what about the rest?  Research tells us that false accusations of sexual assault comprise the insignificant minority.  When accusations against a particular individual are echoed by others, by dozens in some cases, and/or corroborated by various inner circles, it starts to become even more unlikely that we are dealing with the insignificant minority.  But still, there is a concern with due process and this is a legitimate concern.

I’ve decided that this is the way I’m going to look at it.  Due process and innocent until proven guilty are legal matters.  When it comes to where my personal sympathies lie, I’m going to err on the side of believing the victim and using my best judgement.  My best judgement tells me that women and men who speak out against sexual assault have little to gain.  Speaking out often entails dehumanization, degradation, attacks on their dignity,  and threats to their physical safety.  The cost is high, the potential for benefit is low.

This brings me to Woody Allen.  I love Woody Allen’s movies.  Some of my happiest memories come from debating the Manhattan love triangle with my boyfriend in graduate school.  In my twenties I used Vicki Christina Barcelona as a litmus test on dates, asking boys to identify me in one of the movie’s female characters (the right answer was Christina by the way; Maria Elena was also acceptable).  Annie Hall is the only movie my father and I agree on. Whatever Works is one of three movies my husband and I agree on (What We Do in the Shadows and Hotel Budapest are the other two, in case you were wondering).  For some reason, during most of my major depressive episodes, watching Manhattan Murder Mystery on repeat has helped. This is just the tip of the iceberg.  In short, Woody Allen’s movies have brought me so much joy, they have connected me to most important men in my life in different ways, they have connected me and reconnected me to myself.  

So, what do I do with the knowledge that Woody Allen has long been accused by his adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow of sexual abuse?  Allen was tried in a court of law, where the judge said his behaviour was ‘grossly inappropriate and that measures must be taken to protect her [Dylan]”. The state attorney in the case stated that there was probable cause to prosecute Woody Allen.  He reported that the ‘the fragility of the victim’ was the reason they declined to press charges.  This is the tip of the iceberg.  A mountain of incriminating evidence exists.  Not least of all, I am a psychotherapist and I work with children who have been sexually abused, and children on the whole, tend not to lie about these things.  A child is more likely to withhold this information than they are to invent it. 

The question as to whether we can separate an artist from their art is an old one, with backers in both camps and established arguments on both sides.  In the end, I cannot get around from this simple fact:  the allegations of sexual abuse, sexual assault, sexual and misconduct against Hollywood actors, directors, and moguls of industry, are in the end about power.  The fact that these men were able to perpetrate these crimes, silence their victims, and escape largely unpunished (until now, perhaps) is because they have power.  Perhaps it is possible to appreciate Woody Allen’s body of work and to acknowledge his genius, but there is no denying that seeing his movies puts money is his pockets, puts awards on his shelves, and increases his collateral in the industry.  Each of these things amounts to power, power, and more power.  

You can’t paint all mass shootings with the same brush, but in many cases it has emerged that the shooter has had a history of domestic violence, and domestic violence is also about power.  Until we deal with issues of privilege and power, the hopefulness inherent to the current zeitgeist is likely to be a flash in the pan.  “Deal with issues of privilege and power”–what does that mean?  I don’t have all the answers, however I’m coming to feel that in the case of Woody Allen, separating the artist from the art is the wimpy choice.  It’s the choice that would allow me to continue enjoying his films, but it’s also the choice that would necessitate a sort of amnesia, a not knowing of what is known.  And when it comes to power and sexual assault, now knowing what is known is really at the heart of the problem.