Re: Woody Allen
When a career spans six decades and includes over 40 feature films, there is a lot to say. When allegations of sexual assault swirl, there is a lot to say. When Woody Allen puts out a new film, both these things are true, but criminally little is said about that second topic. His newest film, Café Society, opened this week at Cannes and the reviews couldn't feel less relevant. His son, former MSNBC personality, Ronan Farrow, penned a heartfelt critique of the media this week, calling out various outlets for their unwillingness to ask the difficult questions. Appreciation of his work aside, it is not acceptable is to try to act as if his personal failings are not there.
Growing up, I spent an inordinate amount of time watching reruns of The Cosby Show. It represented the peak of African American culture, portrayed positive family values and was highly entertaining. This show meant the world to me. Fast-forward to today's universe and reruns of The Cosby Show are no longer shown on television, its creator and star has been completely marginalized and no one would dream of doing an interview with anyone affiliated with the show without asking about the controversy. Bill Cosby's rape allegations have relegated every byproduct of his career to the dustbin of history. Why then, is the same not true for Woody Allen?
In a way, Allen and Cosby represent interesting foils. While Heathcliff Huxtable was disarmingly charming on The Cosby Show, Bill Cosby was allegedly a predatory monster in his personal life. While Woody Allen's films are filled with woefully inappropriate April-December age gaps between the men and women in his films, the same pattern was allegedly playing out with his underage daughter at home. To those who say to separate the art from the man, it's just not that easy to do so. Each of these men lived in these roles while allegedly committing these horrors and it is hard to watch a character that is essentially the man and not be reminded of that.
We do a strange dance in this country where some artists become marginalized for their personal failings and others continue on. This inconsistency does us all a disservice. With sexual assault specifically, there is an oft-repeated mantra that says "believe the victim." Some of the same people who espouse this cliché defend Woody Allen's public acceptability in a way that seems inconsistent. It's the same inconsistency that allowed Roman Polanski to win an Oscar decades after his deplorable conduct with a 13 year old girl.
Thankfully, it feels like future generations may do a better job shunning these characters than their parents and grandparents have done. In the 2016 Presidential primaries, old allegations of Bill Clinton's sexual misconduct have not gone over well with younger voters, who grew up in a world where "believe the victim" was an actual core value and not just a slogan invented to combat rape culture. Hopefully, greater progress is ahead on this front.
Also, I'd be remiss to not at least ask if race might also be a factor. Would The Hollywood Reporter ever dream of doing a Bill Cosby cover story with scant mention of all that we know? Seems highly unlikely that that would happen regardless of what project he had premiering where. And I am not arguing that Bill Cosby should be accepted; just pointing to the double standard. Public perception is an odd and messy thing and this is just one way in which we have to grow. We must have standards and apply them evenly to the artists who mean the most to us.
Some will read this and point to the fact that these cases were all handled differently by the justice system, which is true. Criminal outcomes, however, should not preclude media outlets from analyzing and questioning. Art should never be able to obscure real life horror. There is no reason we should be blinded by star power or anything else when it comes to discussing issues that impact all of us. We all have a responsibility to make sure that sexual assault is discussed and discussed and discussed. We must make sure to live up to our mantras and not let "believe the victim" become just another thing you say. We owe ourselves better.
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