They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover… but what about its creator?
Corbis, TPG/Click Photos
At 2014’s Golden Globes ceremony, after Tina Fey and Amy Poehler had made their biting jokes, and Bryan Cranston, Amy Adams and Jared Leto all walked up to accept their statuettes, Woody Allen received one of the highest honours in Hollywood – the Cecil B. Demille Award for lifetime achievement.
Accepting the award on his behalf, Diane Keaton, the actress who has appeared in some of Woody’s most famous films, went on to laud the filmmaker for giving cinema some of its most complex heroines:
“It’s kind of hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that 179 of the world’s most captivating actresses have appeared in Woody Allen’s films,” she said.
“And the reason is, they wanted to. They wanted to because Woody’s women can’t be compartmentalised. They struggle, they love, they fall apart, they dominate, they’re flawed. They are, in fact, the hallmark of Woody’s work. But what’s even more remarkable is absolutely nothing links these unforgettable characters from the fact that they came from the mind of Woody Allen.” Sitting in the Beverly Hilton Hotel, Diane’s remarks were met with applause, but elsewhere, her words did not sit as easily.
“Missed the Woody Allen tribute,” tweeted Ronan Farrow, Woody’s biological son with his long-time partner Mia Farrow. “Did they put the part where a woman publicly confirmed he molested her at age seven before or after Annie Hall?”
Coming more than two decades after the bitter split of his parents, Ronan’s comments made headlines, but the splash it caused was nothing compared to the furore that would come later, when one of the central figures of the 22-year-old scandal would finally break her long-held silence.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY
“What’s your favorite Woody Allen movie?” The question seems innocent enough, but when asked by Dylan Farrow, the query transforms into something much more loaded. See, while Midnight in Paris, Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Blue Jasmine were collecting nominations aplenty, most of us had forgotten or not even realised that in 1992, Woody Allen wasn’t in the headlines for his films, but for a much darker reason. [For full details, see the timeline on the next page.]
At the center of the saga, was Dylan Farrow, the adopted child of both Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, who was seven years old at the time. After Mia Farrow was granted full custody in 1993, Dylan and the rest of her siblings kept away from the limelight. Then, in 2014, a few weeks after the Golden Globes ceremony, she wrote an open letter addressing the long-ago allegations that was published by The New York Times.
“Before you answer [my question],” she wrote, “You should know: when I was seven years old, Woody Allen took me by the hand and led me into a dim, closet-like attic on the second floor of our house.”
“He told me to lay on my stomach and play with my brother’s electric train set,” the letter grimly continued. “Then he sexually assaulted me. He talked to me while he did it, whispering that I was a good girl, that this was our secret, promising that we’d go to Paris and I’d be a star in his movies. I remember staring at that toy train, focusing on it as it traveled in its circle around the attic. To this day, I find it difficult to look at toy trains.”
After detailing the psychological torment that she’d been through, Dylan eloquently concluded, “Woody Allen is a living testament to the way our society fails the survivors of sexual assault and abuse.” “The message that Hollywood sends matters for them,” she argued, before turning to a more potent line of questioning: “What if it had been you, Emma Stone? Or you, Scarlett Johansson? You knew me when I was a little girl, Diane Keaton. Have you forgotten me? Imagine your seven-year-old daughter being led into an attic by Woody Allen. Imagine she spends a lifetime stricken with nausea at the mention of his name. Imagine a world that celebrates her tormenter. Are you imagining that? Now, what’s your favorite Woody Allen movie?”
THE ARTIST AND THE ACCUSED
It’s worth pausing here to note that Woody Allen has never been tried or convicted for child molestation or other sex offences. No charges of sexual misconduct or child abuse have ever been filed against him. But Dylan’s open letter and the way she directed her questions not just at Woody Allen, but at his stars, his supporters and even his audiences, struck a nerve in the public consciousness.
#IBelieveDylanFarrow began trending on Twitter, with one of its more famous supporters being Lena Dunham – who herself has since come out as a survivor of date rape. “In wake of Dylan’s letter I’ve noticed a lot of guys obsessed with the idea of being falsely accused,” tweeted the Girls creator. “Though there have, of course, been plenty of terrible and unjust cases in the past, remember… most victims NEVER speak up. Most never feel they can,” she argued, before finally adding, “These are not stories we tell for fun, attention or revenge.”
Others, however, have been more circumspect in their response. In an interview with The Guardian, Diane Keaton simply stated, “I believe my friend.” In a separate comment, Scarlett Johansson told the same paper, “It’s not like this is somebody that’s been prosecuted and found guilty of something, and you can then go, ‘I don’t support this lifestyle or whatever.’ I mean, it’s all guesswork,” she adds. And indeed, with so much said on both sides, believing one or the other does seem to end up being more of a choice, rather than something that can solely be based on incontrovertible fact.
But for many people, that choice is a troubling one. “Innocent until proven guilty,” is what standard moral codes tell us, a wisdom that forestalls us from condemning Woody Allen as a perverted mind who preyed on the adopted children of his former lover. But as many have pointed out, the narratives of those who have survived abuse should carry weight.
And then there is the other question, one that confronts fans of his movies whenever they stand at the ticket queue when Woody Allen’s films are playing – should art have to pay for its artist?
Malcolm Yeo, 21, Student
“You should judge an artist’s work based on its quality and his or her skills.”
Phoebe Foong, 19
“Incidents like these tend to be forgotten over time, and we are all entitled to a second chance. Unless the artist does not seem remorseful at all for his or her mistake, I would still support the art.”
Inessa Loh, 22
“Everybody’s got issues. And people only remember the bad. They will have to deal with their wrongdoings and the world should move on. I would still [support] Woody Allen, any day. Though if it gets bad enough, I may get swayed to stop.”
Nuratiqah Bte Madom, 19
“What Woody did is unforgivable, and he doesn’t deserve a single cent from me. Generally, I would support an artist who has behaved badly if they produce something good. But I could never condone rape or murder.“
Sean Yeo Yi Wei, 19
"Knowing their status and the fact that they are constantly under scrutiny, they should take more care in their private affairs and behaviour. Then again, nobody’s perfect, so why do we expect artists to be?”
Clara Tan, 20, Student
“Artists aren’t responsible for being role models; that’s the job of parents. A person may be an as*hole but produce fantastic work. I choose to separate personal behaviour and work because we’re all battling our own demons.“
Lynette Oh, 19
“Fame brings about a certain responsibility, and they have to expect that their actions will be talked about by the public. My impression of them might change, but if they repent and are good at what they do, I’d support them. Besides, not everyone’s a saint.”
Justin Ong, 19
“I would not support someone who has done something illegal. We have to stand by what is right, and I don’t think the world should support artists like these unless they truly have a change of heart.”
Tiffany Yong, 19
“The backlash from the public may actually prompt these artists to reflect on their actions and improve themselves. But it is always important to get both sides of the story. Unless they make the same mistake over and over, I’m all for supporting them!”
STRANGER THAN FICTION
From an academic point of view, many people would probably say no to that question. “I think a work of art can be read in a context apart from the artist, but at the same time, it’s also part of the artist’s perspective and life,” says Alissa, 27. “If another part of that artist’s life was morally unconscionable, is the artwork tainted by association? Maybe it takes on a different shade of meaning, which makes us uncomfortable, but it doesn’t disqualify the art as ‘art’.”
“People like to think that good or great art can only come from similarly good or great persons, but genius never takes a moral stand when it comes to giving its blessings,” adds Daniel, 30. “Whether the audience wants to appreciate an evil person’s art, however beautiful, is a separate issue altogether, but I think it’s entirely possible to appreciate art from a corrupted source without subscribing to that person’s belief system.”
But on the flip side, there are times when it is difficult to get over what you already know of the person behind the camera, the words, or the music. “Woody Allen is particularly problematic for me. I used to really like his films,” admits Xin Ying, 27.
“There are problematic character types – and sometimes he acts as these types – that can make you look at them with a certain distaste,” she continues. “I mean, you can say maybe he’s self-aware and ironic about the whole ‘younger woman falls for the older guy’ thing, but when it’s in one film, then another, and another, you start to wonder why, and what it implies in the context of his personal life.”
“At the same time, I have no problem with appreciating The Pianist, and it doesn’t matter if it was directed by Roman Polanski [who was charged with the statutory rape and fled the US before he could be sentenced],” Xin Ying adds. “So I’m not going to say that I’m unable to judge or enjoy a film outside of its creator. It’s about how the artist’s work becomes contextualised by his personal life, and sometimes, you can’t so easily separate the two.” “I think the key thing here is why it’s so difficult sometimes to separate life from the artwork,” adds Daniel.
In the case of Woody Allen, he is widely considered to be a pioneer of combining film and psychoanalysis, with many critics theorising that his cinema is a form of therapy that allows him to work out his famous neuroses and obsessions. But as to whether that has any bearing on how you enjoy Irrational Man – Woody’s upcoming movie starring Joaquin Phoenix as a depressed philosophy professor whose relationship with his young student, played by Emma Stone, kickstarts a new will to live – the answer to that is up to you.
What happened in 1992?
A timeline of what went down between Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, and the accusations between them.
1980 Woody Allen and Mia Farrow begin a romantic relationship. For the next 12 years, she appears in many of his films.
December 1991: After 11 years together, the couple remain unmarried, though The New York Times observes, “Few married couples seem more married.” Woody formally adopts two of Mia’s adopted children, Dylan and Moses.
1992 Mia and Woody split, an event caused by Mia’s discovery of a set of nude, explicit photos Woody Allen had taken of her adopted child, Soon-Yi Previn, who was aged around 20 years old at the time. A custody battle for Dylan, 7, Moses, 13, and Woody and Mia’s biological child, Satchel (now known as Ronan Farrow), begins.
November 1992: Vanity Fair publishes “Mia’s Story”, an article that includes details of inappropriate behaviour between Woody and Dylan Farrow, including sleeping together in just underwear, with Woody’s body “entwined” around Dylan’s.
November 1992: Woody responds by suggesting that Mia Farrow coached Dylan into fabricating the accusations in order to get revenge for the manner in which they split. “Mia had said to me, ‘You took my daughter, and I’m going to take yours,’” he says in a televised interview with 60 Minutes on CBS News.
1985 Woody and Mia on the
set of The Purple Rose of Cairo.
1991 Mia Farrow with Soon-Yi Previn.
1987 Woody and Mia in happier times.
Behind the Music
Woody Allen isn’t the only figure in entertainment who’s come under scrutiny for his personal beliefs and actions. Here are some others who have sparked controversy.
In 2000, The Chicago Sun-Times published the first investigative story covering R. Kelly’s alleged sex crimes with underage girls and a previously unreported lawsuit involving Tiffany Hawkins, an aspiring singer who claimed that R. Kelly began having sex with her when she was 15, and he was 24. In 2001, a second lawsuit was filed against R. Kelly by a separate woman, followed by two more in 2002. He settled these lawsuits out of court. Meanwhile, he was also indicted of child pornography charges after sex tapes of a man resembling Kelly having sex with minors was leaked in 2000 and 2002. He pleaded not guilty and in 2008, he was acquitted and cleared of all charges. In 2011, Billboard named R. Kelly the #1 R&B artist of the last 25 years.
After dating for a year, Chris Brown reportedly attacked Rihanna on their way back from a pre-Grammy party in 2009, giving her a swollen lip and black eye. The incident earned him the label “abusive” and derailed the ascent of his flourishing career when radios pulled his chart-topping singles off the air. Three years later, with the recovery of his public image, he won a Grammy for Best R&B Album, but continues to get in trouble with the law over felony assault charges and was even thrown out of rehab. Rihanna and Chris Brown collaborated twice in 2012.
While fellow rapper Azealia Banks has had a longstanding beef with Iggy, the feud blew up in December 2014 when Azealia appeared on a popular US radio show and explained why she sees Iggy as a symbol of cultural appropriation who refuses to pay homage to hip-hop’s roots in black culture. Iggy made matters worse by blasting Azealia on Twitter and dismissing her points as just unnecessary “politics”, prompting artists like T.I., Q-Tip, Solange Knowles and Lupe Fiasco to jump in on the debate. The incident blew over, but a few months later, Iggy began to trend again when a clip of her rapping nonsense went viral on Vine.
June 1993: Mia gains custody of all three children. The Justice cites Woody’s “serious parental inadequacies” as reason for the decision. The evidence given by the Yale-New Haven team is described as “coloured by their loyalty to Mr Allen”. “I am less certain [than] the YaleNew Haven team, that the evidence proves conclusively that there was no sexual abuse,” he writes.
May 1993: The New York Times publishes reports of a sworn statement by a doctor based in Yale-New Haven that “theorised that the child [Dylan Farrow] either invented the story under the stress of living in a volatile and unhealthy home or that it was planted in her mind by her mother, Mia Farrow.”
1997 Woody with Soon-Yi, the year that they got married.
2001 Woody and Soon-Yi with their adopted daughters.
2014 February 2014: Dylan Farrow pens an open letter that is published in The New York Times, reawakening the debate about Woody Allen’s personal history.
2012 At the premiere of To Rome With Love with Soon-Yi Previn.