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 will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • 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.