Can we really separate art from the artist? RACHEL EDDIE examines the effect of Woody Allen’s alleged crimes on our enjoyment of his films.


“What’s your favourite Woody Allen movie?” Dylan Farrow asked.

Manhattan, I answered.

Farrow’s open letter, published in the New York Times last month, goes on to describe the ways her adoptive father, Woody Allen, sexually assaulted her from the age of seven.

“What’s your favourite Woody Allen movie?”

Manhattan is a 1979 film co-written, directed by and starring Woody Allen, who plays a balding 42-year-old man in a sexual and romantic relationship with a 17-year-old student.

Manhattan, I answer.

Now let that thought curdle.

These allegations were first made public in 1992. In this time, more than 20 years later, Allen has been awarded four Golden Globe awards – including the Cecil B. DeMille Award (known as the Lifetime Achievement Award) on January 13 of this year – and has been nominated for seven Oscars, and won an eighth. I won’t bore you, but Woody Allen has been awarded a further 94 prestigious prizes in the 22 years since he allegedly sexually assaulted his seven-year-old daughter.

Granted, Woody Allen has not yet been found guilty. And though for me it seems overwhelmingly likely that he is (you need only look at his marriage with Soon-Yi Previn or watch Manhattan to reach the same conclusion), I’m not concerned with the Did-He-Didn’t-He politics. There’s been far less conjecture on what this means for Woody Allen fans. Could we, should we continue to enjoy Annie Hall? Should we really applaud Cate Blanchett’s recent Oscar for Blue Jasmine? I’d argue that we shouldn’t, for two reasons: because a) the meaning of his films have been transformed by the allegations, so that they can no longer be considered good films; and b) support for Woody Allen’s work is no longer morally sound.

For many of us, Woody Allen films were great ones. But the brunt of it is right there in the past tense; they can no longer be great. Many suggest simply separating the man from the art. But it cannot be so straightforward. By celebrating his art, we celebrate him, be it with prestigious trophies or fortune. Regardless, we actually can’t separate Woody Allen from his films; he is so embedded in them that they are an extension of him. Allen is an auteur director (literally translating to mean “director as author”), meaning that his films are not singular, individual pieces, but rather part of a body of work that are so intrinsically Woody Allen that they are known for nothing else. We watch Woody Allen films because they are Woody Allen films; they receive hype for the same reason. To celebrate Woody Allen films is to celebrate Woody Allen. And, if the allegations are true, that means celebrating a paedophile.

Of course, regardless of their director, for many people these films will continue to be great. Because, “so what?” Let’s get some popcorn brewing and slap Annie Hall in the disc drive. But since when did watching a good film become more important than the livelihood of survivors? Even if they are great art, even if such gross misconduct does not affect their greatness, prioritising art over morality is not an OK option.

It was only a few months ago that I browsed eBay for Woody Allen posters. That I, an outspoken feminist (and an inherent supporter of survivors) might unknowingly worship an alleged paedophile – that I might worship an alleged paedophile so much so that I’d seek out and pay to have his picture hang above my bed – is a gross oversight by myself, fellow fans, Hollywood, media platforms and feminists. The first public allegations were so cleanly, so conveniently forgotten that this was new information for most of us. Why? Because 22 years ago public support for Woody Allen was unwavering. Because too many people let it slide. To those of you – and I know you are many – who simply can’t surrender your love for Allen, what’s important is that next time you recommend his films to another, you remind them of the allegations. If only so that in 20 years, another generation of film buffs might not unknowingly praise a paedophile. So that a survivor might not be forgotten. Or, as Tanya Steele suggests in her Indiewire article ‘When an Artist you Admire is an Accused Predator’:

If I am in a club or environment where he [R. Kelly] is played, I go and stand or sit in silence. I choose to honor the victims. And, that is what I say when I no longer listen to Marvin or watch Woody or, or, or. I simply say, right now, I am honoring the victim. It is a way to bring compassion to the victim.

I can’t for the life of me remember what I once loved about Manhattan. And I have not as yet smashed Annie Hall on the footpath, but by God it’ll feel good when I do. I won’t give Allen another dollar. And if his movies make me feel anything, it won’t be awe. I won’t laugh with his narcissism or admire his characterisation of New York City. If I feel anything for Manhattan, Annie Hall, Midnight in Paris or Blue Jasmine it will be loathing.

Or better yet, I won’t ever watch a Woody Allen film again.


This article originally appeared in print, Issue 2: pARTy

Featured image via Huffington Post