Woody Allen & Separating Art From The Artist
Nicholas Kristof’s column this week focuses on the allegation made by Woody Allen’s biological daughter, Dylan Farrow, that her father molested her when she was a child. This is not a new allegation, but it was back in the news recently when the Golden Globe Awards gave a lifetime achievement award to dirty old man film director Woody Allen. Kristof:
A firestorm erupted in 1992 over allegations described as “inappropriate touching” — in fact, what Dylan recounts is far worse, a sexual assault. She was 7 years old.
There were charges and countercharges. A panel of psychiatrists sided with Allen, a judge more with Dylan and her mother. A Connecticut prosecutor said that there was enough evidence for a criminal case against Allen but that he was dropping criminal proceedings to spare Dylan.
Look, none of us can be certain what happened. The standard to send someone to prison is guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but shouldn’t the standard to honor someone be that they are unimpeachably, well, honorable?
Yet the Golden Globes sided with Allen, in effect accusing Dylan either of lying or of not mattering. That’s the message that celebrities in film, music and sports too often send to abuse victims.
I believe Dylan Farrow, but of course Kristof is right: the only people who know for sure what happened are Dylan Farrow and Woody Allen. Yet I have trouble agreeing with Kristof’s last paragraph here. Is it really the case that the Golden Globe award accuses Dylan “either of lying or of not mattering”? The award is not given to film professionals for being humanitarians; it is given to them for artistic achievement. I completely agree that Allen is a pig — if there were no Dylan Farrow accusations at all, his unrepented-of conduct with Soon-Yi Previn was enough to establish his swinishness — but that does not detract from his accomplishments as a filmmaker.
Neither, for that matter, does Mel Gibson’s personal swinishness make him a lesser filmmaker. A lesser human being, absolutely, but it’s only fair to judge an artist’s work by the quality of his art. If we are going to judge an artist’s work by the quality of his character, more than a few great artists would not make the cut. I have no doubt that Hollywood, being Hollywood, is willing to forgive any sexual transgression by one of its own (e.g., the alleged child rapist Roman Polanski), and I personally could not stand to be present at a ceremony honoring Woody Allen, who is responsible for some of my favorite films. Still, if we accept the principle that a film awards program should hold personal transgressions against an artist, despite the quality of his work, why shouldn’t a program hold the artist’s political convictions against him, in principle? Or his religious beliefs?
Anyway, here’s the full text of Dylan Farrow’s open letter. I believe her.
UPDATE: On second thought, I’m not sure. Filmmaker Robert Weide brings to light facts about the Allen case that I didn’t know. Among them:
On April 20, 1993, a sworn statement was entered into evidence by Dr. John M. Leventhal, who headed the Yale-New Haven Hospital investigative team looking into the abuse charges. An article from the New York Times dated May 4, 1993, includes some interesting excerpts of their findings. As to why the team felt the charges didn’t hold water, Leventhal states: “We had two hypotheses: one, that these were statements made by an emotionally disturbed child and then became fixed in her mind. And the other hypothesis was that she was coached or influenced by her mother. We did not come to a firm conclusion. We think that it was probably a combination.”
Leventhal further swears Dylan’s statements at the hospital contradicted each other as well as the story she told on the videotape. “Those were not minor inconsistencies. She told us initially that she hadn’t been touched in the vaginal area, and she then told us that she had, then she told us that she hadn’t.” He also said the child’s accounts had “a rehearsed quality.” At one point, she told him, “I like to cheat on my stories.” The sworn statement further concludes: “Even before the claim of abuse was made last August, the view of Mr. Allen as an evil and awful and terrible man permeated the household. The view that he had molested Soon-Yi and was a potential molester of Dylan permeated the household… It’s quite possible —as a matter of fact, we think it’s medically probable—that (Dylan) stuck to that story over time because of the intense relationship she had with her mother.” Leventhal further notes it was “very striking” that each time Dylan spoke of the abuse, she coupled it with “one, her father’s relationship with Soon-Yi, and two, the fact that it was her poor mother, her poor mother,” who had lost a career in Mr. Allen’s films.
Whatever the truth of the case, I stand by the art-from-the-artist point.