Dylan Farrow stepped into the public sphere in 2014 with an open letter on a New York Times blog, resurrecting old accusations of being molested as a child by her father, the director Woody Allen. Given a platform outside of the regular New York Times publication by journalist and family friend Nicholas Kristof, Farrow’s letter was a precursor to the current #MeToo movement, where a woman can make allegations of sexual misconduct publicly and where the accused can be assumed guilty according to the mantra that we must “believe women.” Four years later, she is still appearing in the media to denounce her father, and is also haranguing various celebrities who worked with her father in the past. The expectation is that they will apologize for working with a sexual predator, and will express remorse for ever having participated in his films.
Some might celebrate Farrow as a brave survivor and an advocate for victims of sexual assault. I think she is a colossal bore who spouts tiresome clichés, and that her attempt to achieve “justice” via her privileged access to the press is really just an excuse to play out her family melodrama in public — much like her brother Ronan is doing as a “reporter” working on the Harvey Weinstein scandal (just what a dying industry needs — yet another advocacy journalist). Few remarked that Farrow’s original 2014 article appeared after Allen had received a Golden Globe lifetime achievement award for his work as a filmmaker. Thus, from the beginning, I have always seen that this was not just seeking “social justice” in a situation where the law had failed to intervene at the time of the alleged crime, but that it was specifically an attack on the artistic career of Woody Allen.
Farrow began her article by posing the question, “What’s your favourite Woody Allen movie?” before alleging that Allen sexually assaulted her as a child. Farrow’s argument is that to celebrate the films of Woody Allen is also to celebrate the behaviour of a sex offender — an illogical and emotionally manipulative formulation that was only constructed with one goal in mind: revenge. It is an attempt at vengeance that will work in the short term during an era of philistinism and politically correct moralising, but that will fail over the long run, for the simple fact that Allen’s films are qualitatively strong enough to outlast the current Hollywood sex panic.
However he behaved toward women in his personal life, as an artist Allen showed a remarkable empathy toward his female characters in films such as Interiors or Hannah And Her Sisters. Such is the fate of the artist, who can reach a superior understanding of the human condition in their work, but who is then forced to collapse back to being merely human after the act of creation. No matter how great the accomplishment, it will never purify the artist of his psychic baggage, his moral impurities, or his darkest fantasies. Art has the power to outlast its mortal creator, but art will never allow the living artist to transcend their humanity.
The architect of superb films like Another Woman, Stardust Memories, and Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen is a great artist, with sufficient insight into human nature to match his skills as a writer and director. It’s no surprise that, with his finely written scripts featuring memorable women characters, female actors would be eager to appear in Allen’s films. Given the current state of Hollywood, preoccupied with cartoonish superhero movies, it is understandable that serious actors would be keen to work with a film director capable of utilizing their talents. And why wouldn’t they? Woody Allen was convicted of no crime, and until recently, we lived in a society where we did not automatically conflate the accused with a guilty verdict, or social media inquisitions with dispassionate judgments in a court of law.
Actors who are now publicly apologizing for appearing in Woody Allen films are hypocrites and conformists who lack the courage to defend the arts when it matters most. That those in Hollywood, actors or otherwise, are duplicitous careerists is already well known. It doesn’t matter how many “Time’s Up” pins or “black dresses in protest of sexual assault” they appear in at award shows; the public has seen what they will tolerate in exchange for fame, career advances, and riches — despite their liberal pieties. As for Hollywood award shows, these have never been celebrations of objective artistic merit, but are about an industry applauding its own output. Regardless, when creators are recognized for the genuinely high quality of their work, we should embrace the moment to give great artworks and artists their due. It is not an opportunity to pretend that the artist is a “good person.” By this logic, I also reject the arguments from moralists who object to Roman Polanski being celebrated for his contributions to film. Those who are unable to recognize that actress Meryl Streep was applauding Polanski as an artist, and not for his personal behaviour, lack the capacity to contend with the ambiguities of human life, and thus the art that mirrors it.
The concept of “the artist as hero” was challenged long ago, rightly, but what was not made clear is that it is the great artwork, and not the artist as a person, that deserves our admiration and praise. The artist is subject to creative decline, or personal failings that may be rightly condemned in a social context; an artwork of quality possesses a stability that may elude the artist in their personal and professional lives. In a culture that recognizes this fact, there is no conflict between admiring the art while personally despising the artist. Dylan Farrow is wrong to use the arts in the way that she has in her pursuit of “social justice,” which, if done at all, should target Woody Allen as an individual, and not his artworks or his role as a filmmaker. No artwork should be punished for the sins of its creator.
There will always be injustices that never receive the scrutiny of our legal systems, and even in those instances where justice has been served in a court of law, this doesn’t necessarily provide “resolution,” on a personal level, for a complainant. An individual must determine whether being the victim of an injustice will forever define their identity, thus stunting it, or whether they will assert control of the direction of their own life. I question whether Dylan Farrow is pursuing the latter option. Beyond seeking revenge — whether for the alleged abuse, or for Allen’s betrayal of her mother Mia Farrow in his relationship with Soon-Yi Previn — what is Dylan Farrow’s endless campaign really going to accomplish for her? Is she planning on lurking at movie award shows for the rest of her life, clucking her tongue at anyone who would acknowledge the accomplishments associated with her father’s films?
Farrow is in an unfortunate position; at least one of her parents is being untruthful, and has betrayed her in a manner that is inexcusable from a parent. A child who becomes ensnared in their parents’ emotional vortex is not at fault; an adult who continues to define herself by the misdeeds of her parents is making a choice. We have a word for those who have been bitten by a fanged interloper and then proceed to become bloodsuckers themselves. By attacking her father’s art, Dylan Farrow is engaging in a battle she is guaranteed to lose, as she has dragged her moral crusade into an arena of art and imagination that is amoral. She has opted to make herself into a permanent victim, yet in doing so she is binding herself to her father — instead of seeking true emancipation.
Dylan Farrow and her brother Ronan are actually living the cliché of the artist’s offspring, who, through their connections and unearned privilege from that association, proceed to flounder in public as they find themselves unable to match the impossible achievements of their parents. Farrow might meditate on the figure of Joey, from her father’s film Interiors. Joey is one of the daughters of self-centred and dysfunctional parents who go through a dramatic separation; emotionally manipulated by both parents and lacking a stable sense of her own identity, or any ostensible talent, Joey dabbles in the various arts, to no avail. “She doesn’t really have an eye,” remarks her sister, played by Diane Keaton. Dylan Farrow is similarly lacking any visionary insight — the kind evidenced in her father’s work. The public stage is not a therapist’s couch, which is where Farrow belongs. The arts already have their fill of parasites, poseurs, and dilettantes — we do not need Dylan Farrow acting as yet another Bolshevik, ready to sacrifice the best of human creation for the sake of her own petty agenda.