I’ve been struggling with my own feelings and opinions on the subject of Woody Allen’s alleged abuse of his daughter Dylan. Like everyone else, I wondered what Cate Blanchett would (or wouldn’t) say about him when she won her inevitable Oscar. I’ve read others weighing in with their opinions, their theories, their advice. None of it has shed a single ray of light.
I’m a big fan of Woody Allen’s movies. I think I’ve seen every single one. His are the only movies I always see in the cinema on the first or second weekend. I even enjoy the not-so-great ones.
Some find it easy to separate the artist from his art. They can love Annie Hall while hating its creator. I can’t do this. I can’t enjoy a man’s work if I know that he is, or was, an abuser of children. That’s a line I can’t cross. In this blog I have written at length about child abuse–condemning both the Catholic Church for its enabling and cover-ups as well as Roman Polanski and his apologists for their glib acceptance of his brutality. But these were easy condemnations. In both cases the perpetrators admitted to the acts–even if they believed themselves above the law.
With Woody Allen it’s different. And this is what makes it so troubling. There is a desire to politicize the issue–to make it about patriarchy, or about privilege, or about the vulnerability of celebrities to false accusations. We might get angry at Cate Blanchett or Diane Keaton for implicitly taking Woody’s side by saying kind things about him in public–and thereby furthering Dylan’s victimization. Or we might get angry at Mia Farrow or Ronan Farrow for continuing to attack Woody on Dylan’s behalf, despite the fact that
he has been cleared of all charges the charges were ultimately never pressed.* We want to take sides. But how can we? The alleged incident–a grown man sexually abusing his seven-year-old daughter–is something we all agree is wrong. The problem is we don’t know if it happened. And we probably never will. Either Woody Allen victimized Dylan and continues to get away with it. Or Dylan lied and continues to malign him unjustly. To take either side is to pretend at a knowledge we can never have. Even to engage in a debate about the matter is a kind of offense. Imagine you were wrongly accused of a sexually assaulting your daughter and the whole world was talking about it. Now imagine you were sexually abused by your father and the whole world was skeptical. One of these scenarios is the truth, and we, the observer-debaters, are implicated in it.
I’d rather have justice. But justice requires evidence. And this being the type of crime for which there is rarely a corroborating witness, there is little evidence to work with.
I find myself falling back on the fact that Woody
was investigated by the police and cleared of all charges ultimately wasn’t charged*. And, while I know this may have less to do with his innocence than with the difficulty of proving the unprovable, at the very least an attempt at justice was made. This does give me some comfort. Just not enough.
In her open letter published in the New York Times on February 1st, Dylan Farrow asks: “What’s your favorite Woody Allen movie?” She then goes on to describe how he sexually assaulted her. The implication is clear. You might be able to separate the artist from his art. But you shouldn’t.
I agree. I just don’t know what to do about it.
*Thanks to Justine Larbalestier (@JustineLavaworm) for reminding me that Allen was not, in fact, cleared of the charges, but rather a decision was made not to press charges. There’s a difference. It doesn’t change my angst over the whole thing, but still it’s legally different. And whenever possible in a case like this, it’s important to get the agreed-upon-facts-on-the-ground straight.