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Should Woody Allen's Oscar Be Revoked Over Dylan Farrow's Sex Abuse Allegation?

Hollywood has a responsibility to set the right example. But it isn’t the venue for determining guilt or innocence.

Director Woody Allen at the 64th Cannes Film Festival May 11, 2011.
Director Woody Allen at the 64th Cannes Film Festival May 11, 2011. Reuters

This article was originally published in February 2014 and republished after Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein was ousted from the Motion Picture Academy after revelations of decades of sexual harrassment came to light.

When I first went to write this article, I wanted to say that in light of Dylan Farrow’s painful allegations against Woody Allen, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences should revoke his nomination for Best Original Screenplay for “Blue Jasmine.”

I wanted to write that Academy members should not only take into account the ethical implications of honoring such a man, but the moral consequences of working with one, and consider this when casting their vote for the Best Actress in a Leading Role and Best Actress in a Supporting Role awards, for which Blue Jasmine stars Cate Blanchett and Sally Hawkins are nominated.

So pierced I was by the words of Dylan Farrow, blaming Hollywood for turning a blind eye to her suffering, for honoring a man who ruined her life, for worshipping a figure whose exceptional artistic merits hid a monster inside.

So betrayed I felt by Woody Allen, a director, screenwriter and actor that I myself have praised, whose work I revere, and who the Jewish community has taken pride in calling one of its own.

I assumed he was guilty, I sided with Farrow, and I believed that Hollywood – so influential its actions in the messages they send to the public – had a responsibility to set the right example. Revoking Allen’s nomination, and scrutinizing those who were willing to work with him despite the allegations that had been made against him two decades ago, seemed the ethical thing to do.

But the more I read about the case, the more I realized that Hollywood is not the address. The Academy is not the forum in which Allen must be brought to trial.

It is not for me, nor Hollywood, to decide who is guilty. It is ignorant to assume that the words splashed across the Internet present enough of the facts for us to make an educated guess at who here is telling the truth.

The Blue Jasmine actors that Farrow singled out in her open letter have refused to get involved in the blame game: "It's obviously been a long and painful situation for the family and I hope they find some resolution and peace," Blanchett said in response to Farrow’s letter; “You are mistaken if you think there is a place for me, or any outsider, in this family’s issue,” tweeted fellow actor Alec Baldwin.

The Academy also refused to get involved. “The Academy honors achievement in film, not the personal lives of filmmakers and artists,” a spokesman told the New York Times.

In its 86-year history, not a single Oscar nomination is known to have been revoked on personal grounds. The only nullifications, as documented by The Hollywood Reporter, were over technicalities and professional protocol - like portions of an “original dramatic score” being featured in earlier compositions; films being screened in the year prior to the award; or nominees illegitimately attempting to sway votes in their favor.

Back in 2003, Roman Polanski won a Best Director Oscar for “The Pianist,” despite reportedly being wanted for sentencing on a statutory rape charge 26 years earlier. The film also won two other Academy Awards that year. Was this morally just?

Just yesterday, in a very similar ethical firefight here in Israel, a decision was made not to give a Lifetime Achievement award to controversial singer Ariel Zilber. Zilber has been accused of advocating the early release from prison of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin, and recently joined an extreme right-wing party led by followers of the racist and ultra-nationalist rabbi Meir Kahane. Instead, Israel’s umbrella music rights body granted Zilber a “Contribution to Israeli Music” award in an attempt to avoid endorsing his less savory aspects. Clearly, the organization felt there was a need to honor the musician’s professional merits rather than the person on the whole.

I looked elsewhere for guidance, and considered how the sports industry deals with these matters. A sportsman’s Olympic medal would not be revoked over his personal misdeeds. Sure, if he violated professional protocol, by cheating or using performance-enhancing drugs, he would be disqualified and stripped of his honors. But “Blade Runner” Oscar Pistorius did not lose his gold Paralympics medals after he fatally shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, and Tiger Woods was not barred from golf tournaments for cheating on his wife. Their professional merits were seen as separate to their personal lack thereof. Just like Olympic medals, Academy Awards are measures of professional – not personal – merit.

And really, they should be. Allen’s guilt or innocence is not for Hollywood to decide. The venue for retribution or exoneration is the court of law. And if we are to see any justice in this case, it will be in a criminal proceeding. I say “if” because we cannot be sure that enough evidence will be available to prove Allen’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt, resulting in a conviction, even if he did commit the acts he is accused of.

So while a big part of me still wants to say the right thing to do is to drop Allen’s nomination - for how could Hollywood honor someone who may be so dishonorable - another part of me swallows my heart and drives a wall between private and professional, to say that the Academy should let the makeup of Hollywood brush over the ugliness that might be hiding inside, and carry on with the show.

The author is the Jewish World Editor at Haaretz.