Here are my thoughts on Woody Allen and the continuation of his career in the midst of continuing questions about sexual assault. You may have seen Ronan Farrow’s Hollywood Reporter column, some of the reports from Cannes about accusations being avoided in Allen interviews, and the big news of Allen’s upcoming series on Amazon. Here’s my take.
I spent a lot of time this weekend on the road, and at one point started to think about what kinds of crimes would stop me from appreciating someone’s art. Of course, it’s an age-old question: can you separate the artist and their work from their life? Should you? Why or why not? Tweets from Wesley Snipes and about Sean Penn’s defamation case against Lee Daniels sparked my thoughts. Snipes, as you may remember, spent time in federal prison for tax evasion. Sean Penn was accused of domestic abuse, and Lee Daniels contrasted the treatment of his Empire star Terrence Howard–also accused of domestic abuse–to Penn’s. Thinking about all of these actions–some alleged and some convicted–I wound my way through my own system of judgment. Out of all the offenses I could imagine, the worst were the ones that caused more vicious, invasive bodily harm: violence, rape, murder. Those made it more and more difficult for me to separate the artist from their actions, especially when they seemed to be reflected in their work.
This has become more and more important to me in the last few years in the wake of persistent questions about Woody Allen and the ongoing allegations of sexual abuse against his daughter over twenty years ago. I became a media scholar in the wake of my Allen fandom, but in the past few years, I realized that I had to let that lifelong love go. If I was going to truly consider myself a critical and feminist media scholar, I could no longer take an ambivalent approach to him and his work.
I had to admit that whether or not any accusations could be proven, there were too many questions remaining and too many issues reflected in his work to be open-ended about what they might mean. They were troubling and could not be sufficiently resolved. Nor was his work changing. The men were getting older, the love interests younger, the romance with elitist (and white, wealthy enough) cultural objects was ongoing. I’m glad that my appreciation for his work in the past got me to where I am today. I’m also glad that my criticality has kept me from remaining nostalgic about his work and his career, to stay blind to the crimes he may have committed and to the ongoing offenses in his work. In the end, I say when in doubt, believe the survivor, so I can’t anymore with Woody Allen.