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Was press wrong to honor Woody?


This article was published January 17, 2014 at 2:25 a.m.

NEW YORK - Sunday night at the Hollywood Foreigh Press Association’s Golden Globes, Woody Allen was presented with the Cecil B. DeMille award for lifetime achievement, reigniting the debate about how the entertainment industry and fans should deal with artists and performers believed to be sexual predators. Mia Farrow and her son, Ronan Farrow, expressed their displeasure with the tribute on Twitter. Mia simply stated that she was switching over to the season premiere of Girls, but Ronan elaborated on his objections:

Missed the Woody Allen tribute - did they put the part where a woman publicly confirmed he molested her at age 7 before or after Annie Hall?

Presumably, he was talking about his adopted sister Dylan Farrow (who now goes by another name). In 1994, the courts looked at Mia Farrow’s accusations that Allen had molested 7-year-old Dylan and found them inconclusive but were concerned enough to deny Allen visitation. Dylan spoke with Vanity Fair in 2013 and affirmed the allegations, saying that it was an ongoing problem that she tolerated because she thought “this was how fathers treated their daughters. This was normal interaction, and I was not normal for feeling uncomfortable about it.” She then says she finally told her mother after an incident in the attic, because she was “cracking” under the stress. Allen denies the allegations.

What is indisputable is that Allen started a relationship with another of Farrow’s adopted daughters, Soon-Yi Previn, when Previn was 20 years old. Mia Farrow discovered the relationship when she found pictures that Allen had taken of a naked Previn, who was around 10 years old when Allen first started a relationship with her mother. Previn and Allen deny any underage funny business in their relationship.

They’ve been married since 1997.

Clearly, Mia and Ronan Farrow think it’s inappropriate for the Globes to honor Woody Allen because he’s an alleged child molester and a confirmed creep, but the entire situation raises uncomfortable questions. Should the industry and fans register their disapproval with sexual predators and the justice system’s inability to properly deal with them by boycotting their work and barring them from receiving awards? Or should we separate our appreciation for the work from our judgment on the fallible human beings who created it?

It’s a complicated question, made even more so by the idiosyncratic relationship between each artist’s body of work and personality. With R. Kelly, rock critic Jim DeRogatis has argued that the problem is when an artist’s bad behavior inflects his work and bottom line. “There are not pro-rape Led Zeppelin songs. There are not pro-wife-beating James Brown songs,” he says, pointing out that Kelly’s bad boy sexual persona actually moves records. Allen’s work falls into more of a gray area, with characters frequently making bad - though not illegal - sexual choices out of human weakness. That could read as an apology for his behavior, just as surely as R. Kelly’s Trapped in the Closet series reads uncomfortably like an apology for his misdeeds. The personal nature of Allen’s work, especially when he casts himself in his movies, makes it much harder to separate the art from the artist.

To make the whole situation even more fraught, Diane Keaton accepted Sunday night’s award on Allen’s behalf by singing a little ditty about friendship that turned the moment into a tribute to the man. There’s a case to be made for trying to separate the art from the artist, but Keaton and the chummy industry around her seemed to think we should forgive a man’s sins because we like his movies. That’s too big a request.

MovieStyle, Pages 39 on 01/17/2014

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