Dylan Farrow's op-ed in the New York Times Sunday landed like an atom bomb. It was a hard piece to read, as are all stories about sexual abuse, especially when children are involved. The online reactions to Farrow's accusations have been predictably, and I would say unfortunately, split. It's one thing to say that you don't think Allen should be thrown into jail without a proper trial, and that's OK. It's quite another thing to accuse Farrow of lying. The amount of people who are dismissing Dylan's accusations out of hand is scary. This is not something that people tend to lie about. It's not as if Farrow has a lot to gain by admitting to the world that she was sexually abused as a child. She is not fishing for a book deal, or looking for pity. Her confession was brave, and an example to others who have been abused that it is OK to speak out. Many victims of sexual abuse live in such a world of fear and shame that they are unable to out their attacker. According to statistics from RAINN, the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network, 60% percent of all sexual assaults go unreported and 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail. Thinks about that number for a second, 97%. That is horrifying. We live in a society that is too dismissive of sex crimes. There is almost a 100% chance that you know someone who was sexually assaulted at some point in their life. That person could be your spouse. That person could be your child. This is why I don't understand how people can take a story like this likely. Their needs to be a dialogue about sexual abuse. There is no way to eradicate a problem that people feel too uncomfortable to even talk about. Let's not be cowards. Let's have this discussion.
Here's the question that I've been struggling with over the past couple of days. Is it OK to enjoy the creative works of someone who is accused of actions so horrible. If these accusations are true, and there is no reason to believe that Farrow is lying, should I feel differently about Annie Hall or Manhattan? Can I bring my self to feel differently about art I enjoyed so much? Before this weekend, I already knew that Allen was at least a very strange guy, if not a complete scumbag. This didn't stop me from watching Annie Hall around a dozen times in the past ten years. Now that someone has exposed Allen as a monster, will I continue to watch the movies he's made? I honestly don't know.
It doesn't seem fair that people who are capable of doing evil are also capable of creating such beautiful things. My stance on Woody Allen as of right now is that he has made - and perhaps will continue to make great art - but that doesn't mean I have to continue to support his work. I'll certainly never pay to go see a movie of his, and it's doubtful that I will watch any of his new films. If there was a switch that I could flip to erase all the fond memories I have of his older films: I would flip it, but reluctantly. It's all such a damn shame. I feel horrible for what Dylan Farrow, and countless other people have had to endure. So many lives have been completely destroyed by monsters like Allen.
And yet the work remains. In 100 years Annie Hall will still be as heartbreakingly lovely as the day it was first released. There has been, and will be, generations of film makers inspired by Allen's films. I know his work has influenced my writing, and for that I feel cheated. I'm not one to assume that an artist, athlete or politician is a nice person just because of the product they produce, but influence is different. It's something you can't control. I feel like, in some way, Allen has got into the very DNA of my art, and now that part of me feels deprived.
The bigger message here - and one that definitely trumps how we all should now feel about Allen's work - is that sexual abuse should not be a topic that, as a culture, gets swept under the rug. Because of Farrow's bravery, we are having a national dialogue about sexual abuse, which is hugely important.The fact that it takes a outing on this kind of celebrity level to engage a critical mass of people on this issue is unfortunate. However, If this leads to just one child coming forward and outing someone is sexually abusing him/her, it will be worth all the uncomfortable discourse that we having at the moment. For that, Farrow is nothing short of a hero.