Recent scandals beg the question: Can we separate the art from the artist?

January 29, 2018 — by Victor Liu, Elaine Toh and Kyle Wang

When Woody Allen was accused of sexual assault in 1992, the victim was not an actress or an employee — it was his own 7-year-old adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow.

In 1997, he married Soon-Yi Previn — the considerably younger adopted daughter his former partner, Mia Farrow.

At the time of these events, Allen had enjoyed considerable commercial and critical success as a director, actor and screenwriter. His films such as “Annie Hall,” “Manhattan” and “The Purple Rose of Cairo” were hailed as instant classics.

Allen has never acknowledged the possibility of any wrongdoing, and he has repeatedly denied Farrow’s accusations. In spite of this, more and more victims of his alleged abuse and harassment have continued to come forward. Actors such as Mira Sorvino and Ella Page publicly expressed their regret for working with Allen in 2017, hoping to lend credence to the accusations.

But even as Allen became the subject of increased public scrutiny over the past several years, his films — most notably “Midnight in Paris,” which won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 2011 — have continued premiering to critical and commercial acclaim.

In 2001 — nine years after Dylan Farrow accused Allen of sexual assault — Allen’s film “Manhattan” was deemed “culturally significant” by the Library of Congress.

The 2017 cases of assault and harassment, which toppled Harvey Weinstein and others, should have changed the public’s unwavering reverence for Allen’s movies. As similar auteurs like James Franco faced allegations that have raised new questions about their work, Allen’s own films have remained comparatively untouched.

While critics ultimately can’t — and shouldn’t — change their evaluation of a piece based on the actions of a respective artist, all cinephiles, from casual moviegoers to the most diehard indie film lovers, need to strongly reconsider the cultural implications of movies like “Manhattan.”

For starters, should artwork in a vacuum that ignores authorial intent and context be considered desirable? This critical absolution that reviews artwork while removing the artist from the picture enables the purest of critiques, but it also partly contributed to the harmful power hierarchies that have ruled Hollywood and made monsters like Weinstein possible.

However, Weinstein wasn’t an auteur, or a filmmaker that has so much influence over a film that they essentially become its author, who handpicked every shot and micromanaged the entire filmmaking process. In the award-winning film, “Pulp Fiction,” Weinstein aided the film’s funding and distribution, but Quentin Tarantino directed and wrote it. Critically disparaging "Pulp Fiction" for the sake of reproaching Weinstein would be firing a bullet at the wrong target.

Weinstein’s flagrant abuse in Hollywood, however, can and should be culturally condemned. Ignoring Weinstein’s actions outside of his previous works of art is akin to silencing the people he harmed.

As a director, however, Allen has had a tremendous influence in theatrical productions, which imprints his wildly brilliant creative vision but also inappropriate, antiquated beliefs onto all of his projects.

For example, the 1979 romantic comedy film “Manhattan” follows a 42-year-old writer who dates a 17-year-old girl. Though conceptually disturbing, the film still gained critical acclaim and is considered a modern classic.

In light of Allen’s scandals that happened after release of “Manhattan,” Allen has received increasing backlash from the general public; however, he still continues to direct movies.

His upcoming movie “A Rainy Day in New York” is still set to release this year. But, as a result, actor Timothée Chalamet, who stars in this movie, expressed regret for participating in this film and plans to donate any of his profit to charities.

If the actor himself believes that he should not gain any money by taking part in Allen’s film, then Allen, who is the source of problem, should also receive no form of profit. Yet, the infamous director still gains money and support from moviegoers.  

Here, movie distributors must play their part: they are, after all, the ones who provide Allen with the means and funding to continue making movies. Actors and actresses are, unfortunately, replaceable — but a sharp rebuke from a powerful film distributor like Warner Brothers or 20th Century Fox could send a message to the entire cinematic community.

This is not to say that directors such as Allen have not produced artwork — they absolutely have.

And that’s the problem.

How can we separate Allen’s disturbing beliefs from his cinematic brilliance when the narratives he creates are premised on these beliefs?

How can we see Allen’s films — many of which are romantic comedies — without viewing them in the context of his own inappropriate relationships? The very “artwork” he produces normalizes behaviors which the film industry is trying desperately to correct and erase.

To make matters worse, actors and actresses who have been accused of sexual assault are still awarded for their art. For example, actor Casey Affleck was awarded an Academy Award for Best Actor in 2017, despite previous allegations of sexual assault against him. His award sparked anger between actors and the public as it was seen as indirect acceptance towards the actor and his actions.

Ultimately, our continued blind worship of these individuals lends credence to the values their films implicitly promote, whether those are ill-informed notions of consent or flagrant sexual inequality. In awarding these individuals for their work — whether they are actors or directors — we offer them positions of power and prestige which they may continue to misuse and abuse.

And, in 2017, that is a standard we can no longer accept — Allen’s time as a cinematic powerhouse should have been up the moment he was accused of sexual assault by his adoptive daughter.

 

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