As anyone with an internet connection knows, the past few weeks have been a Woody-Allen-themed shitshow. At issue: Allen's daughter Dylan Farrow alleging that he sexually molested her in the early '90s, when she was 7. The accusation has drawn at least two generations of the Woody Allen–Mia Farrow clan into a grim public battle of "he said/she said." Support for each side is readily available, while verifiable facts remain scarce, leaving us all to rely on the evidence of our emotions.
As a fan of Woody Allen and a hater of the culture that shames survivors of sexual abuse for telling their stories, I can't help but notice there's been a natural bias toward Allen in the way this has played out. For example, Dylan Farrow's testimony ran as an open letter on the New York Times blog, while Woody Allen's rebuttal and proclamation of innocence ran as an official editorial in the printed New York Times. So allow me to focus on the words of Dylan Farrow: "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. Then he sexually assaulted me."
The accusations aren't new. They'd first been made more than 20 years earlier, in a 1992 Vanity Fair article written by Maureen Orth (who'd devoted the majority of her feature to dissecting Allen's interactions with another of Farrow's daughters, 19-year-old Soon-Yi Previn, with whom the 56-year-old Allen was romantically involved, and has been married to since 1997). According to one doctor who investigated the Dylan Farrow matter at the time, the allegation wasn't true, and a Connecticut state attorney who believed at the time that there was enough probable cause to arrest Woody Allen decided not to. The one concrete, seemingly mitigating fact in all of this is that, after a thorough investigation, both Mia Farrow and Connecticut authorities declined to pursue charges against Allen in connection with the alleged assault.
Still, there in Dylan Farrow's open letter was the testimony of the one person willing and able to call Woody Allen a child molester without the buffer of "alleged." Responses to her letter ranged from the expected (Allen's attorney and publicist offered responses maintaining their client's innocence, as did Allen himself in his NYT editorial) to the shocking (Dylan Farrow's brother Moses, now a 36-year-old family therapist, publicly dismissed his sister's claims of abuse as fantasies planted by their scorned-and-vengeful mother).
And throughout all of this, in a little corner of the Northwest, programmers at Seattle's great nonprofit cinema the Grand Illusion were gearing up for a three-week festival showcasing Woody Allen's films of the 1980s. "Repertory titles such as these are programmed months in advance due to 35 mm print availability issues," reads the disclaimer on the Grand Illusion website. "This series is not a comment on recent events."
Not an intentional comment, for sure, but there's no divorcing the six-film Woody Allen in the '80s festival from the stink brought forth by Dylan Farrow's testimony, nor should there be. Readers made queasy by discussions of the moral relativity of artists' deeds and artists' work should probably stop reading now. (Or at least stop reading this. Instead, google "Bill Cosby alleged sexual assaults" for a bracing example of purportedly hating the sin while letting the alleged sinner slide.) As an artist, Allen has created numerous jokes and plot points around the sexual desirability of children—too many to count, so let's go with the most concise, from 1975's Love and Death, when a wise old sage says, "I have lived many years, and, after many trials and tribulations, I have come to the conclusion that the best thing is... blond 12-year-old girls. Two of them, whenever possible."
In my non-legally-binding imagination, it is easier to conceive of a young girl being molested by her father than a young girl being manipulated into telling humiliating lies—lies she's willing to repeat for 20 years—by her mother. That said, I do not believe that watching a Woody Allen film is the moral equivalent of bullying an abuse survivor.
There are plenty of reasons one might be inspired to boycott the films of Woody Allen; for plenty of people, Allen's relationship with Soon-Yi Previn is enough. And if you take Dylan Farrow's side on this—and reject Allen's art and cultural status because of it—well, that is a valid response, one of the only possible responses left, since the allegations never rose to the level of criminal charges.
And yet it's even more complicated than that. Boycotting the films of Woody Allen in effect means boycotting the films of Mia Farrow, and in this shitshow, you're either on Woody's side or Mia's. She stars in every one of the six films featured in the Grand Illusion's festival. Besides doing the best work of her life in collaboration with Allen—see 1984's Broadway Danny Rose, 1985's Purple Rose of Cairo, 1986's Hannah and Her Sisters, and 1989's Crimes & Misdemeanors, all featured in the Grand Illusion fest—Farrow also provides a workable model of compartmentalization, having testified in 2005 as a character witness for Roman Polanski, her friend and a filmmaker, who in 1977 pled guilty to unlawful intercourse with a 13-year-old girl.
It's no secret that people who make beautiful art can also do awful things, and the ability to appreciate the art in light of its maker's misdeeds is something humans must navigate for themselves. When I again cast my eyes on the films of Woody Allen—some of my favorites ever—I'll be looking to reconnect with those films' wit, heart, braininess, and amazing acting. For those ready to try now, the Grand Illusion's got six Allen films—five all-time classics (the four mentioned above plus 1987's Radio Days) plus one noble dud (1988's Another Woman)—on the big screen in 35 mm starting this Friday. For full info on the fest, see grandillusioncinema.org.