Susan Sarandon just spoke out about Woody Allen and it was marvellous.
I could end here. However, I think it’s important to discuss exactly why it’s so important that someone like Sarandon (a hugely influential actress in the public eye) would speak out about the allegations against Woody Allen. I think it’s very important to understand the (not unique) situation that Allen is in – and how Hollywood and the general public’s refusal to acknowledge that he just might have committed sexual abuse against a child feeds into the already prevalent rape culture in our society.
The only thing that is remotely unique about Woody Allen’s situation is that he is an extremely high profile director who has a huge body of works in the mainstream film industry. His works are (for the most part) highly rated, and he has continually made films year after year. He is given free reign on what he directs, what he writes and he has the freedom to cast whomever he likes in his work. Simply, he is respected among his peers in the industry. He is respected by the studios who fund his work, and the audience that pay £12 to go and see it in the cinema
Granted, this is not actually that much of a unique situation. In the last few years several big personalities involved in some way with the BBC have had allegations brought against them of child sexual abuse – starting with iconic presenter Jimmy Saville. The almost-constant stream of victims coming forward after Saville was momentous and despite the fact that a vast number of people working at the company seemed to have some sort of notion it was going on, there was never any prosecution until he died.
Throughout the last few years only a small handful of celebrities and media outlets actually stood up for the victims, preferring instead to question why the victims of any abuser with celebrity status had only come forward now or labelling it a “witch hunt”, as with the recent Chris Evans allegations. That’s Radio 2 Chris Evans, not Captain America for any non-Brits reading this.
It’s much the same with Woody Allen. In 1992, when Dylan and Mia Farrow (Dylan’s mother, Woody Allen’s former partner) bought the events to the media and public eye for the first time, there was a complete disregard from almost every single person who had worked alongside Allen. This continues today (Kristen Stewart’s comments on it). Farrow herself questions why none of Allen’s colleagues or peers noticed what was going on, or tried to challenge him in any way… similarly to how nowadays cannot understand the apathy of BBC employees at the time of Saville committing his horrendous offences. Clearly, the institutions of both Hollywood & the BBC were pretty good breeding grounds for dishonesty, fear-mongering and a certain level of allowing those who were/are ‘high profile’ to simply get away with it.
So we could engage in a discussion about whether one’s private life and one’s art amount to the same thing, or whether it’s justifiable to consciously not watch a director’s films because of the choices he has made in his life. We could engage in these debates, and we regularly do. However, in the case of Woody Allen, I think it’s super important to look at the actual content of his films when opening up a discussion about whether or not we can disengage ourselves from the ‘man’, not the ‘art. Allen’s films consistently star an older man (the age of the male protagonist almost directly corresponds with Allen’s own age whilst directing – the older he gets, the older his protagonists get) falling in love/being saved by/becoming infatuated with a young girl, oftentimes a lot younger than himself.
“Whatever Works”, “An Irrational Man”, “Cafe Society”, “Magic in the Moonlight”, “Manhattan”, “Husbands and Wives”, “Deconstructing Harry”, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”, “Scoop” all tick the significantly-older-mentor-type-male-dating-younger-woman box. It’s not necessarily about the age difference (though you have to admit a 50 year age gap is a bit weird). In “Annie Hall”, the age difference is significantly less than his other films but the relationship is still one of authority-teacher figure and passive-student, not one of equals by any measure.
So it’s an interesting trend. I would argue a pretty overused and boring trend (like seriously does anyone need to see another white man being saved by a manic-pixie-dream-girl??). What makes it more interesting (read – revolting) is when we start to look at Allen’s own life and just how similar it is shaped to that of his protagonists. Recently, Allen gave a pretty horrific insight into how he views his current wife, Soon Yi-Previn. His former adopted daughter, the two began dating when Allen was 47 and she was 17. Allen left his partner at the time (Mia Farrow) for Soon Yi, who was her adopted daughter. Yeah, let that sink in for a second. If the age gap/dad-daughter relationship hasn’t already made you squirm uncomfortably, let’s take a minute to think about what Woody Allen said when asked what she has given him during their relationship.
She had a very, very difficult upbringing in Korea: She was an orphan on the streets, living out of trash cans and starving as a 6-year-old. And she was picked up and put in an orphanage. And so I’ve been able to really make her life better. I provided her with enormous opportunities, and she has sparked to them.”Vanity Fair
And this gem:
I’m 35 years older, and somehow, through no fault of mine or hers, the dynamic worked. I was paternal. She responded to someone paternal. I liked her youth and energy. NPR
So, as we can see, Allen himself see’s him as a white saviour in his daughter/wife’s life for without him, I mean she’d probably have no future right? He literally saved her from a life of poverty and pain, apparently.
I mean, we can laugh about his stupid comments and his chauvinistic attitude to women in general. It is bizarre, funny and odd and even people who are fans of his work admit that they are all a bit more autobiographical than perhaps is comfortable. The issue doesn’t lie in the fact that the films are based on Allen’s own life experiences, in fact it is standard practice for filmmakers to invest their own lives and journeys into their work. This is actually the crux of the issue. Allen’s films are almost indistinguishable from his actual real life and this makes it so much harder to separate the films as merely ‘entertainment’ without actively supporting his lifestyle.
His lifestyle which, whether you believe Dylan Farrow or not, clearly does include preying on younger women. Essentially, if you even have the slightest notion that Dylan Farrow might be telling the truth, to then carry on buying into and watching Allen’s works is basically insinuating that you don’t mind all that much.
Of course, Woody Allen has not been prosecuted or found guilty by law for his crimes. I am far from saying that we should view every single person who is accused of a crime as guilty, but clearly even a guilty verdict would not dissuade audiences from seeing his films. Take Roman Polanski, for example. Polanski has been convicted of pedophilia, but has he become less popular as result? Audiences accept that the man is a monster, but apparently this does not translate to his art.
In the case of Woody Allen, and the way his films tend to mirror his real life fantasies, I think we a treading a very, very thin line. Can you truly watch a Woody Allen film where the man himself plays a character age 47 dating a 17 year old, and not be reminded of Allen’s own life? Can you separate a person’s art from themselves?
I’d argue that you can, but only if you are willing to be completely ignorant about the way in which art is created.A person’s art is inspired and influenced by their own politics, opinions and experiences. Film-making always has been (and probably always will be) a deeply personal experience, and any director worth their salt will tell you that their own life experiences shapes the films you watch more than anything other element within the film.
I am not saying that you shouldn’t go home right now and watch Annie Hall. It might be quite good, I wouldn’t know I’ve never seen it. Not necessarily because the sight of Woody Allen make me feel ill, but because I’ve never really gone in for that type of film. What I am saying however, is if you do watch Woody Allen’s films – you should be aware of the man producing the content you are enjoying.