Crimes and Misdemeanors: Thoughts on Woody Allen

In the best English class I ever took my teacher told her students that Mia Farrow hates my high school because of one student’s reaction to the Woody Allen and Soon-Yi scandal. While the story is an entertaining one, I would not do it justice here. It really requires a dramatic reenactment. It is worth noting that Woody Allen and Soon-Yi will be married for twenty-one years this year, so Mia’s grudge is long held.

Although Mia’s emotions regarding my high school will not be in the news any time soon, her daughter Dylan Farrow’s emotions have made the news in the past few weeks. Dylan, of course, has become very outspoken about the allegations that Woody Allen molested her when she was a child. If you look into the legal investigation of those events, you will find that the proceedings were not handled well. Dylan herself was not even interviewed during the investigation. What happened between Dylan and Woody is between them and it would not be fair to either of them to comment on something so personal without adequate information. 

However, as Dylan has taken center stage in this story, especially with the advent of Time’s Up, she has called for people who have worked with Woody Allen to denounce him. Some have voiced their regrets. For those very few people who spoke out before Time’s Up, I believe their change of heart was genuine. For those many more people who have come out recently, I believe they are capitalizing on an important movement so that they can stay off the Hollywood blacklist.

I struggle with the ethics of separating the artist from the person. I often return to that conversation and I still do not have a clear conclusion. I think that part of the conversation needs to be a realization that many artists are not the best people. The Good Place tells a joke in the pilot that basically every artist wound up in The Bad Place. To discount and discredit the art of every artist who has done anything bad would leave us without a great deal of the culture we hold dear. Perhaps part of our challenge is to decide which bad deeds have the consequence of forgotten art.

Whether or not it is ethical to separate the artist from the person, it is important to do so in the case of Woody Allen when considering the disingenuousness of those who spoke out against him. As an artist, Woody Allen has been influential and celebrated. He has won Oscars, Golden Globes, and BAFTAs among other symbols of prestige. Oprah was lauded for her speech when she won the Cecil B. DeMille Award, but only four years ago Woody received the same award. Diane Keaton accepted the award on his behalf. Many of his films exhibit a mastery of cinema, and because of that talent he has the power to make, revive, or expand the careers of his cast.

So I do not believe anyone regrets working with Woody Allen. I believe those who have recently denounced him are trying to save their own skin and morality. But when they made the decision to work with Woody, it was not a question of morals but a question of a once-in-a-career opportunity. Dylan dragged Justin Timberlake on Twitter for not denouncing Woody but supporting Time’s Up. In Justin’s silence I see an honesty that those who have spoken out about their work with Woody lack. Justin made a career move in working with Woody, just like those condemning Woody made in both their decision to work with him and their decision to voice regret. Where Dylan and many others criticize Justin, I applaud his sincerity.

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