As Nicholas Kristof pointed out in the New York Times today, around the time of the Golden Globes, when the issue of Woody Allen’s alleged behavior toward his adopted children, woefully inappropriate at least, and criminally reprehensible at worst, was raised once again, many of us struggled with the idea of separating the art from the artist. Is it possible to maintain an appreciation for the art of a man who has been accused of horrible things? And what of the fact that he was never charged or convicted of any crimes? And when is it time to say fuck art, this is too much?
A sobering open letter from Dylan Farrow, Allen’s adopted daughter, puts a lot of that into perspective today. The letter, posted on Kristof’s blog, is a must read.
What’s your favorite Woody Allen movie? Before you answer, you should know: when I was seven years old, Woody Allen took me by the hand and led me into a dim, closet-like attic on the second floor of our house. He told me to lay on my stomach and play with my brother’s electric train set. Then he sexually assaulted me. He talked to me while he did it, whispering that I was a good girl, that this was our secret, promising that we’d go to Paris and I’d be a star in his movies. I remember staring at that toy train, focusing on it as it traveled in its circle around the attic. To this day, I find it difficult to look at toy trains.
For as long as I could remember, my father had been doing things to me that I didn’t like. I didn’t like how often he would take me away from my mom, siblings and friends to be alone with him. I didn’t like it when he would stick his thumb in my mouth. I didn’t like it when I had to get in bed with him under the sheets when he was in his underwear. I didn’t like it when he would place his head in my naked lap and breathe in and breathe out. I would hide under beds or lock myself in the bathroom to avoid these encounters, but he always found me. These things happened so often, so routinely, so skillfully hidden from a mother that would have protected me had she known, that I thought it was normal. I thought this was how fathers doted on their daughters. But what he did to me in the attic felt different. I couldn’t keep the secret anymore.
This is a basic principle: until it is proven otherwise, beyond a reasonable doubt, it’s important to extend the presumption of innocence to Dylan Farrow, and presume that she is not guilty of the crime of lying about what Woody Allen did to her.
If you are saying things like “We can’t really know what happened” and extra-specially pleading on behalf of the extra-special Woody AllenHi, The Daily Beast!, then you are saying that his innocence is more presumptive than hers. You are saying that he is on trial, not her: he deserves judicial safeguards in the court of public opinion, but she does not.