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Woody Allen: Liftetime Abuser?

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Pure memory. This is the evidence sexual assault survivors must present to the public and local governments to make their cases. It is no surprise that such a fragile source of information is often brushed off for lack of credibility, unfairly silencing many survivors. But according to a letter publicly released on Feb. 1, Dylan Farrow, daughter of actress Mia Farrow, has had to suffer not only her own stifling but the accolades her accused abuser (and father), director Woody Allen, continually receives.

Recently awarded with the 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award at the Golden Globes, Allen also awaits three possible Academy Awards for his newest film “Blue Jasmine“. In her letter, both scathing and empowered, Farrow taunts Allen’s success, asking readers “What’s your favorite Woody Allen movie? Before you answer, you should know: when I was seven years old, Woody Allen took me by the hand and led me into a dim, closet-like attic on the second floor of our house,” describing Allen’s assualt as she played with a toy train set on the attic floor. No criminal charges have ever been pressed against Allen, although the letter explains that his visitation rights were rebuked once Farrow informed her mother of what she was experiencing.

“For so long, Woody Allen’s acceptance silenced me. It felt like a personal rebuke, like the awards and accolades were a way to tell me to shut up and go away,” Farrow writes. Doctors and even Farrow’s mother attempted to make her crack and admit to lying about the abuse. But it was too real for Farrow to stay silent any longer; it’s far from coincidental that her letter surfaced in tandem with his many honors. She implores readers to consider a seven-year-old daughter of their own, and “Imagine a world that celebrates her tormenter.”

To have one’s abuser be such an icon to the public would be an undeniably difficult fact to face. However, we must ask ourselves a question: in this case, is the “tormenter” being celebrated, or his work? Dr. Robin Inboden, professor of English and contributor to the cinema studies minor, restructured the perspective with which such recognition could be viewed. “In the case of artists, there is a long history of debate on whether it’s possible to admire the art but deplore the artist,” Inboden said, citing Oscar Wilde whose work was colored “immoral” after his own criminal trial in the 1890s for homosexual behavior. So are the talks of boycotting Allen’s Lifetime Achievement Award and his Academy Award nominations a reasonable response to these accusations, despite him having no criminal status?

According to Inboden, Wilde defended his work on the premise “that art could neither be moral or immoral.” She elaborated that “his central point is that the work of art is not the artist, and what we recognize is the aesthetic quality of the work of art, not the moral quality of its maker. A lot of major artists have been pretty awful people; Picasso took a certain pride in the number of people who committed suicide over him. Yet would we ignore the amazing power of Guernica because its creator was a self-centered jerk?”

The praise we offer to talented filmmakers, actors, and actresses may appear to be a form of hero-worship, making icons of people without regard to their moral fiber; however, if looking at the film industry as an artistic institution, it is not so difficult to understand admiring a person’s work and talent and not them them self.

“I think we could make this controversy go away by not giving Woody Allen awards–he’s never cared about them anyway. But I don’t think that these accusations are going to make Woody Allen’s achievement as a filmmaker go away,” Inboden concluded.

Farrow believes depriving him of recognition could still make a difference: “But others are still scared, vulnerable, and struggling for the courage to tell the truth. The message that Hollywood sends matters for them.” Hollywood will be setting an example not only for the film industry, but for a public that continues to muddle through bringing justice to sexual assault survivors.

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