Arts, Column

COLUMN: Allegations Of Woody Allen’s Sexual Assault Call Legacy To Question

Woody Allen will go down as one of film’s great artists. He won the Academy Award for Best Director in 1978 for Annie Hall and has won Best Original Screenplay three separate times, most recently in 2011 for Midnight in Paris. In January at the Golden Globes, Allen received a Lifetime Achievement Award. Allen’s Blue Jasmine is nominated again at the Oscars for Best Original Screenplay, and its star Cate Blanchett is the favorite to win Best Actress.

But Allen won’t be at Oscars. He wasn’t at the Golden Globes, either, where his longtime muse Diane Keaton gave him a glowing tribute. Allen has skipped the awards circuit for most of his career, which spans over 50 years. And this year, the sad saga that has festered around Allen for the past 20 years has resurfaced in the public statements of Allen’s 29-year-old adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow. Farrow posted an open letter on The New York Times website claiming that Allen sexually assaulted her when she was seven years old. In particular, she calls out many of the Hollywood figures that have supported Allen throughout the years, saying, “You knew me when I was a little girl, Diane Keaton. Have you forgotten me?”

This isn’t really news. This is a twisted, confusing, but mostly sad story that has been playing out for the better part of 20 years-one that Farrow’s vindictive mother Mia has continually pushed and Allen has continually denied. Mia did so in a Vanity Fair profile last year, and Allen in a New York Times op-ed this past Sunday. Those on Dylan’s side point to Allen’s questionable, inappropriate relationship with Dylan before the alleged molestation, and the oddity of his relationship with wife Soon-Yi Previn, which began when Previn was 19 and Allen 56. Those on Allen’s side point to his lack of predatory activities before and after the alleged incident, as well as Moses Farrow’s-Dylan’s older brother, who was 14 at the time of the alleged abuse-decisive statements on the matter saying that Allen did not molest his sister and that their mother keeps pushing the story to drag Allen’s name through the dirt.

This isn’t as clear-cut as the R. Kelly case. We don’t have a video. We have “he said, she said.” The only people who know what happened here are Dylan Farrow and Woody Allen. So those who have celebrated and enjoyed Allen’s work over the years are left unsettled-that a man of great wit, who writes great roles for women, may have molested his 7-year-old adopted daughter and has gone on to lie about it for more than 20 years. We know Allen is a great artist, and we’re afraid that he’s also a wicked monster. The question brewing in our guts isn’t as straightforward as “how do we judge a monster’s art?” We have to reconcile with the possibility, not the assurance that Allen is a monster. We have to reconcile movies we may love with a monster we might hate.

I don’t know where the truth ultimately lies. I don’t think Farrow is lying. I think if you’re repeatedly told something happened to you at the age of 7, you’ll eventually believe it. So we’re left with a cascade of great films and Dylan Farrow’s tortured soul.

Midnight in Paris was my favorite movie of 2011 (admittedly a weak year for movies). It’s a perfectly paced, whimsical adventure where the viewer meets Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald-as well as Rachel McAdams. It’s about the never-ending, divisive cycle of nostalgia. It’s about living in the now, and it may in fact come from the mind of a predator. Does that taint the film itself? I don’t think so. If you can find truth within a film, then that’s your truth-a truth you may share with the director, but ultimately your truth. So we can celebrate Allen’s movies for what they mean to us, what they have meant, but that doesn’t mean we have to celebrate the man.

At the end of the day, the real story isn’t that we can’t view Allen’s films in a clear lens or that Allen’s reputation has been tarnished. The real story is, whether she was or not, Dylan Farrow has lived her adult life believing she was molested by her father. There was a life she should have lived, and it was taken from her by either her mother Mia or father Allen. It’s our responsibility not to punish Allen-at least not just yet-but to remember Dylan.

February 9, 2014