Sisterhood Blog

Why Woody Allen Fans Should Stand Up for Dylan Farrow

By Sarah Seltzer

  • Print
  • Share Share

Since Woody Allen’s stepdaughter, Dylan Farrow, has come forward with a harrowing story of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of the lauded film director, an obvious impulse for fans of Allen’s work is to focus on our own moral quandaries. “Uh-oh. Can I ever watch ‘Annie Hall’ again?”

Whether or not to applaud art that’s “tainted” with immorality makes for a deeply compelling philosophical dilemma. Ezra Glinter and Elissa Strauss detailed their own concerns with writing and thinking about Allen beautifully here at the Forward. Writ large, I’m obsessed with this topic myself; my graduate school lecture included an elaborate infographic weighing how I valued famous novels on a pure aesthetic level vs. how offensive I found them morally.

I am damn good at separating art from its creator, and I admit to being kind of proud of this, seeing “great art which makes us human” as in a separate realm from my hallowed social justice principles. If art is a halfway point between consumer and creator, say I, than even the most depraved creator can’t erase the value of his work once it exists in the world.

Perhaps, as Elissa Strauss said so perfectly, my ability to compartmentalize like this may arise from my Jewish upbringing, a mixed legacy of assimilation and affront (Josh Lambert’s new book, “Unclean Lips,” chronicles how American Jews crusaded in favor of “obscene” art as a way to find mainstream acceptance.)

I was raised to appreciate many Nazi sympathizers, wife-beaters, smut-peddlers and so on as great artists but to never forget their flaws; Dickens/Fitzgerald/Wharton/Pound/T.S. Eliot hated the Jews, the darn anti-Semites, but boy, boy could s/he write. This attitude necessarily extends to our own — the Philip Roths, the Woody Allens.

We admit that they’re misogynistic, maybe even creepy in Allen’s case, but they turned our oppression-bred neuroses into relatable tapestries of existence, so we celebrate their work. Like many American Jews, I grew up on Allen films, watching them with my parents and friends in the very neighborhoods and theaters depicted by the films themselves. And yet when we saw Allen on the street, the response was, “What a horror he is.”

As many recent critics have noted, many of us fans may lose our enjoyment of these films now that we have read Farrow’s words. But we can grapple with that question until the end of time.

Right now, I suggest we turn away from our own moral dilemmas. Instead, a young woman has spoken out, and it would require contorting ourselves into knots to deny her testimony. So not despite, but because of my staunch belief about art vs. artist, I see zero reasons to be ambivalent about Allen’s accuser or about how to behave. There is one just course to take, I believe, and that to is stand up for Dylan Farrow and against the rape apologists and victim-blamers who are piling on against her.

If you’re going to separate the artist from his work, as I pride myself on doing, you also have to separate the work from the artist. In other words, if Woody Allen being an accused abuser doesn’t automatically render “Annie Hall” a bad movie, then the inverse is also true: “Annie Hall” being a quality film doesn’t absolve Woody Allen from being an alleged child molester. I make that distinction so the knee-jerk defenders are forced to make it, too. You like Woody’s work? So do I. But there is no need to pit the value of a script directly against the value of a young woman’s stated truth. We are, we must be, discerning enough to see the difference. And the stories of victims deserve a fair airing without being smeared, questioned, or the survivors blamed.

My heritage includes Woody Allen films, but it also, sadly, includes rape culture. And though I hope Allen’s comedic legacy will be part of my kids’ lives, I badly want them to live in a world where abuse victims are supported by society and their abusers no longer protected.

To end rape culture, we must vigorously question our own allegiance to powerful, talented men at the exclusion of the people they allegedly hurt. We self-styled cultural sophisticates may be ace at sifting the artist out from the creation. But that’s not enough. If we aren’t going to be hypocrites, we have to hush the din of applause to let victims’ voices through.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Woody Allen, Manhattan, Jewish, Dylan Farrow

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.