Nancy Chang, executive director of Reel Grrls, published an open letter this morning in which she chastised the Seattle International Film Festival for booking Woody Allen's film Cafe Society for its opening night film, and the Seattle arts community as a whole for tacitly supporting that decision, which she called "tone deaf and out-of-touch with the current zeitgeist." She also expressed shame for having "hesitated for a moment to speak out against the selection," which she says she did because she didn't want to offend her "friends and colleagues" at the festival. "But then I realized that this very type of rationalizing is what helps fuel rape culture in America," wrote Chang.
The entire text of the letter is below. Reel Grrls and NW Film Forum are holding a Twitter chat on this subject today at 4pm at #WhoAreWeCelebrating.
IT DOESN’T MATTER IF YOU’RE AN OSCAR WINNER
AN OPEN LETTER TO THE ARTS COMMUNITY: WE NEED TO PLAY AN ACTIVE ROLE IN ENDING RAPE CULTURE.
As a woman who has built her career on supporting young people, especially girls, I am ashamed that I hesitated for a moment to speak out against the selection of Woody Allen’s latest film, Café Society, to make its North American premiere as the Opening Night Film of our much beloved Seattle International Film Festival.
I guess I didn’t want to offend the people I consider friends and colleagues at our hometown film festival. But then I realized that this very type of rationalizing is what helps fuel rape culture in America. As the Executive Director of Reel Grrls, a feminist organization that supports young people as they explore, critique and create media through a feminist lens, it was incumbent upon me to speak out and use my voice to model the type of behavior our programs teach our students.
I also happen to be the co-founder (and current Board co-chair) of Skate Like a Girl, an organization dedicated to creating safe spaces in skateboarding, a traditionally male-dominated sport, where young women develop leadership skills. I firmly believe that our youth can only thrive and be healthy when they are safe and their well-being is valued.
I love SIFF. I love that this year 27% of SIFF films feature the work of women directors and producers, four times the industry standard for representation of women filmmakers. SIFF works hard to bring amazing films and educational opportunities to Seattle year-round. However, with the recent #OscarsSoWhite backlash and the well-documented lack of diversity in both mainstream and independent film, their decision to showcase the work of Woody Allen, as opposed to, say, Andrea Arnold (American Honey), Maren Ade (Tony Erdman), or Nate Parker (Birth of a Nation), is both tone deaf and out-of-touch with the current zeitgeist. Let’s remember that we as a society — and as an arts community — hold the power to decide who gets celebrated. It’s time to give less known artists the opportunity to have their talent recognized, particularly over men who have been accused of child sexual abuse.
By honoring the work of a filmmaker who stands accused of sexually assaulting his then seven-year-old daughter, we become a passive participant in a rape culture. A culture that all too often turns a blind eye to the transgressions of the rich and powerful, while punishing, shaming and, ultimately, silencing the very people seeking justice.
What does it say about our society, our city, and ourselves when we sit back and apply a relativistic moral algebra to rationalize our continued support of entertainers, athletes, CEOs, and others in positions of power and influence? What does it mean when the entertainment industry continues to favor dollars over morals when it comes to the questionable actions of its most celebrated members? What does it mean when Seattlites, who would divest in tertiary businesses that contribute to greenhouse gases in a heartbeat, line up to support a man is claimed to have caused irreparable harm to a child?
As hundreds of Seattleites walk the red carpet this Thursday, let’s stop and ask ourselves why we are fine separating the art from the artist when that association becomes uncomfortable for us, yet fail to consider the lifetime of shame that same artist’s daughter says he imposed on her.
The time has come to stop making excuses for sexual predators simply because they make “great art,” and to start supporting the victims who have been regularly and systematically silenced. We all have a role to play to create a new culture that supports survivors.
– Nancy Chang, Executive Director of Reel Grrls