For those of a certain age who grew up in the 1970s and ’80s – Woody Allen’s heyday as a filmmaker – the quintessentially New York Jewish auteur made movies that virtually defined us, or who we wanted to be. We watched “Annie Hall,” “Manhattan” and “Hannah and Her Sisters” and dreamed of growing up to be someone who ate Chinese food in bed in our spacious Upper West Side apartments, chatted with our artsy friends in buzzing chic Manhattan restaurants, had beachside adventures in the Hamptons and shared romantic moments next to the Brooklyn Bridge as the Manhattan skyline glittered.
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It seems crazy to our kids and grandkids that this 82-year-old filmmaker was ever a sex symbol, but back then, he really was. Somehow, the quick-witted hilarity, self-deprecating vulnerability and unrepentant adoration of women displayed in those films turned him into a romantic ideal, overshadowing his insecure nebbish quirks. Only when looking back do we pay attention to what we overlooked in the messages of many of his brilliantly conceived films. Time after time, he portrayed mature and ambitious women – especially married women, and especially mothers – as undesirable demanding shrews. His heroines were pure high school girls, college coeds, ditsy ingenue actresses and even young prostitutes.
The young stars who are now turning their backs on Allen and expressing regret for working with him aren’t old enough to remember the shock and horror that initially took the shine off of the Woody Allen mystique. It happened when Allen and actress Mia Farrow – the ultimate sophisticated couple with their ethnically blended clan of children, who lived separately but waved at each other across Central Park – melted down into tabloid fodder as they battled for custody of their then biological children.
In that battle, Farrow accused Allen of molesting their daughter Dylan, then seven years – accusations he denied and which the police, after investigating, did not find to be substantiated. The story behind their split was the juiciest of its era: Allen began an affair with Farrow’s adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn, and Farrow discovered it through nude photographs that Allen had taken of Previn.
Allen’s image was badly bruised, but he bounced back. His personal life may have made fans a bit squeamish, but not enough to stop seeing his films. Financing became slightly more difficult, a problem he solved by getting European cities that wanted to be immortalized in one of his movies to help underwrite them.
And so, year after year, top-drawer actors – and gorgeous young actresses – vied for the opportunity to jet off and star in them. This held true even after a grown Dylan Farrow repeated the charges against him in a New York Times opinion piece in 2014, which he again denied.
“Woody Allen is a living testament to the way our society fails the victims of sexual assault and abuse,” Farrow wrote. But no one really stopped and listened – at least, not long enough to forgo seeing “To Rome With Love” or downloading “Annie Hall” on iTunes.
Now Dylan Farrow is speaking out again – but at a very different time. In a television interview on "CBS This Morning," she shares her experience as the world is finally internalizing the message that victims need to be believed and sexual predators must face consequences, regardless of whether they meet the threshold for criminal charges. In a video released ahead of the interview with Gayle King, which airs Thursday, Farrow declares, “I am credible, and I am telling the truth and I think it’s important that people realize that one victim, one accuser, matters.”
The interview follows an op-ed Farrow wrote in the Los Angeles Times in early December, well after the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke and the #MeToo hashtag was born. In the article, headlined “Why has the #MeToo revolution spared Woody Allen?” she asked, “Why is it that Harvey Weinstein and other accused celebrities have been cast out by Hollywood, while Allen recently secured a multimillion-dollar distribution deal with Amazon” and continues to finance and release his films in theaters around the world?
Why, indeed? It seems that, like U.S. President Donald Trump, Woody Allen was somehow grandfathered in, given a pass when it came to his alleged sexual misconduct.
Both men have a loyal base of fans and admirers who choose to willfully ignoring their transgressions, declaring that the private lives of their heroes are none of their business as long as they produce the goods – politically or artistically.
In both cases, there was an argument to be made that the people have spoken – in Trump’s case, with their votes; and in Allen’s, via their pocketbooks. Trump was elected president despite the long list of female accusers, even after the "Access Hollywood" tape gave their charges credence. Allen has continued to draw audiences even after the details of his affair with Previn were revealed and the molestation accusations from the Farrow family were publicized.
Allen clearly felt confident and immune when the #MeToo movement began with the Weinstein accusations. “The whole Harvey Weinstein thing is very sad for everybody involved,” he told the BBC last October, calling it “tragic for the poor women that were involved, sad for Harvey that [his] life is so messed up.” Allen even dared to caution against “a witch hunt atmosphere” in which “every guy in an office who winks at a woman is suddenly having to call a lawyer to defend himself.”
This is a man who at age 44 cast a 16-year-old Mariel Hemingway as his love interest in “Manhattan.” Hemingway claimed in 2015 that Allen had attempted to recreate in life what happened on the screen, writing in her memoir that he (unsuccessfully) tried to lure her to Paris for a tryst.
But while Trump’s immunity remains intact – if only by virtue of his powerful position – it seems Allen’s past behavior may finally be catching up with him.
Three of the young actors from his upcoming film, “A Rainy Day In New York,” have said they are ashamed of their decision to work with him and are donating their salaries to victims’ rights organizations. The mother of a fourth star, Selena Gomez, wrote on Instagram that before her 25-year-old daughter accepted the role in Allen’s film, “I had a long talk with her about not working with him, and it didn’t click.”
Actress Mira Sorvino, who won an Oscar for her performance in “Mighty Aphrodite” and claimed last year that Weinstein sexually harassed her, wrote an open letter to Dylan Farrow.
“At the time I worked for Woody Allen I was a naive young actress,” Sorvino wrote. “I swallowed the media’s portrayal of your abuse allegations against your father as an outgrowth of a twisted custody battle between Mia Farrow and him, and did not look further into the situation, for which I am terribly sorry.”
She added that she idolized Allen’s work when growing up, as did fellow actor (and "Lady Bird" director) Greta Gerwig, who told the New York Times about working with Allen on “To Rome With Love”: “If I had known then what I know now, I would not have acted in the film,” adding, “I have not worked for him again, and I will not work for him again.”
Let’s face it: It has been and remains particularly difficult for Jewish Woody Allen fans to renounce their idol. Over decades, he has become a cultural embodiment of the American Jew, his nasal delivery of his classic comedic lines as familiar to us as bagels and lox. It wasn’t so long ago that there was a crowdfunding effort to convince the filmmaker to make a movie in Israel.
Even as #MeToo burgeoned, something about the accusations has triggered a measure of ethnic solidarity and an instinct to shield Allen.
It hasn’t helped that hate-filled conspiracy-mongers in the anti-Semitic, “alt-right” white nationalist movement have already had a field day with Weinstein, Al Franken and other Jewish men called out as part of the campaign, denouncing them as possessing a particularly depraved and predatory nature (while deliberately turning a blind eye to accusations against Bill O’Reilly, Kevin Spacey and other non-Jews, particularly Trump).
Now that a Woody Allen tipping point has arrived, the apologies and recriminations shouldn’t just be the responsibility of the actors who enjoyed the spotlight. Those of us who bought the tickets – perhaps against our better judgment – were equally as unwilling to hold him accountable for his alleged offenses, and kept the cameras rolling.