There was an outpouring of adulation on Twitter for Woody Allen a while back when the BBC aired a new documentary about him, so I tweeted the question, “Woody Allen: why do we still idolise him when we know he sexually abused a child? Does his accomplishment change a crime into a misdemeanour?” This upset one Woody Allen fan who, even when I shared links to the evidence, refused to accept the possibility that Woody Allen could have done anything wrong. When I rephrased the question to make it about Michael Jackson, who I’m guessing they’re not a fan of, they said, “Good question, yes, it’s weird how people only remember the good”. Just to be clear, this post isn’t about that tweeter. Their response is typical of how many people would have reacted (see some of the comments here), including probably me in the past – I used to be an Allen fan.
It is expecting a lot of people to reappraise their idols. As you watch Woody Allen’s films and read his books his brand starts to become an extension of you. You gain new friends and status as you meet other fans and become an expert who can contribute to discussions and give others information. This is a lot to give up just because your idol is a bad parent and is subject to allegations of child sexual abuse. We don’t want to feel bad about our own consumer decisions, so let’s reject that conflicting information. Maybe as an Allen fan we might even feel partly culpable for his actions if we accepted the evidence could be accurate. We shouldn’t, but maybe we do?
The 1993 State Supreme Court report reproduced in Mia Farrow’s autobiography What Falls Away is here. A few excerpts:
“I agree with Dr. Herman and Dr. Brodzinsky that we will probably never know what occurred on August 4, 1992. The credible testimony of Ms. Farrow, Dr. Coates, Dr. Leventhal and Mr. Allen does, however, prove that Mr. Allen’s behaviour toward Dylan [Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter who was 7 at the time] was grossly inappropriate and that measures must be taken to protect her.”
…but Annie Hall is soooo funny. The bit with the lobsters makes we howl! (Entertainment Über Alles!)
“His [Allen’s] trial strategy has been to separate his children from their brothers and sisters; to turn the children against their mother; to divide adopted children from biological children… His self-absorption, his lack of judgement and his commitment to the continuation of his divisive assault, thereby impeding the healing of the injuries he has already caused, warrant a careful monitoring of his future contact with the children.”
…but Hannah and Her Sisters won an Academy Award. What a classic! Come on, nobody’s perfect.
“On December 30, 1992, Dylan was interviewed by a representative of the Connecticut State Police. She told them…that while at Mr Allen’s apartment, she saw him and Soon-Yi having sex. Her reporting was childlike but graphic. She also told the police that Mr. Allen had pushed her face into a plate of hot spaghetti and had threatened to do it again.”
…well OK, that’s not good – if she isn’t imaging it, but he won a Golden Globe. No, he’s still my idol.
“…Dylan told Ms. Farrow, for the first time, that in Connecticut, while she was climbing up the ladder to a bunk bed, Mr. Allen put his hands under her shorts and touched her. Ms. Farrow testified that as Dylan said this, she was illustrating graphically where in the genital area.”
…hmmm, well, how come he isn’t in jail then? He was on David Blaine’s show the other night, it can’t be true.
And so on.
Woody Allen’s stardom juggernaut will keep on rolling and public opinion will not change unless he is prosecuted and found guilty. Connecticut State Attorney Frank Maco decided not to pursue a prosecution against Allen at the time because he knew Dylan would be put through hell by Allen’s lawyers in court and there are generally slim chances of a conviction in these types of cases.
The principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ loses validity when the accused are so powerful and the court system so insensitive to the needs of the victim as to prevent the victim from making their case fairly in court. Hopefully the new Crown Prosecution Service and Sentencing Council guidelines will start to redress the balance in the UK. As for satisfying our overwhelming desire to be entertained, let’s be honest, Groucho Marx’s films are funnier, and Ingmar Bergman’s films tell you much more about the human condition.
See Dylan Farrow’s open letter of 1st February 2014 here.