By giving Allen’s film its North American premiere, the Seattle International Film Festival is going against a community that has fought hard for underdogs and made a priority of nurturing young people.
Great art can engender great compassion.
We pity van Gogh’s madness. We mourn Jim Morrison (and Billie Holiday and Jimi Hendrix and countless others) and their drug addiction. We still love Alec Baldwin and Christian Bale, despite their red-faced, abusive outbursts.
But what to do when those who create artistic beauty are accused of damaging children?
That’s the conundrum facing audiences as Woody Allen’s new film, “Cafe Society,” hits the screens — and, most notably, the Seattle International Film Festival’s Opening Night on Thursday.
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Last week Allen’s son, Ronan Farrow, reminded the world how his father was still being celebrated at the Cannes Film Festival, defended by his stars and rarely questioned by the media, despite being accused in 1992 of molesting his daughter, Dylan Farrow.
Allen was never charged, but a custody ruling found Allen’s behavior toward Dylan “grossly inappropriate” — witnesses saw him with his face in the little girl’s lap, and forcing her to suck his thumb.
(This was before Allen married Dylan and Ronan’s sister, Soon-Yi Previn. Ahem.)
In 1993, a prosecutor said probable cause existed to file charges, but the girl’s mother, actress Mia Farrow, chose not to prosecute. She said she didn’t want Dylan to be further traumatized.
“It was a stark reminder,” Ronan Farrow wrote, “of how differently our press treats vulnerable accusers and powerful men who stand accused.” (Looking at you, Mr. Cosby.)
To me, it’s a no-brainer for SIFF: Don’t allow Allen its most coveted spot. Giving his film its North American premiere goes against the culture of the Seattle film community, which has fought hard for the underdog and underfunded, and made a priority of nurturing young people through organizations like Reel Grrls.
How can we empower these girls, tell them to express themselves through their art, then celebrate someone who may have used his artistic stature to drown out a victim’s voice?
“I have been torn about it, of course,” said Shannon Roach Halberstadt, executive director of The Artist Trust and a Reel Grrls board member. “It’s great art and art shouldn’t be censored.
“But at the same time, we should have responsible and reasonable discussions about the issues around the artists.”
In a statement, SIFF representative Sara Huey said the festival wasn’t getting tangled up in the drama of Allen’s personal life.
“SIFF has always approached the art and experience of cinema on each film’s own terms,” Huey said. “Our job is not to take on political, social, or others’ personal issues. Rather, it is up to audiences to decide what they want to see and to form their own opinions.”
It would be fascinating for SIFF to host a panel of filmmakers, writers and publicists talking about how to reconcile what an artist does on the screen and what he or she does away from it. Let audience members speak about whether they turn away at the ticket window or sit in the dark in defense or denial.
Spurred by my questioning, Halberstadt said she would raise the idea with the Reel Grrls executive committee meeting this week.
“It’s a good conversation to have,” she said.
Allen is not the first director or actor accused of molesting children.
In 1977, Roman Polanski was accused of drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl. He pleaded not guilty to five charges, and guilty to engaging in unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor — then fled to France hours before he was to be sentenced.
Polanski has continued to make movies (“The Pianist,” “The Ghost Writer”), all while avoiding countries that would extradite him to the United States.
And people still watch his classic “Rosemary’s Baby,” which starred — wait for it — Mia Farrow.
In 2012, actor Stephen Collins — best known for playing a reverend on the WB’s “7th Heaven” — confessed to having molested multiple young girls. And Peter Yarrow of Peter Paul and Mary spent three months in jail after being arrested for taking “indecent liberties” with a 14-year-old girl who approached him for an autograph. (Yarrow was pardoned by President Carter in 1981.)
“Puff the Magic Dragon” and a WB hit from 20 years ago don’t carry the weight of Allen’s cinematic canon — which, by the way, includes “Manhattan,” where he plays a 42-year-old comedy writer dating 17-year-old high-schooler Mariel Hemingway. (He even waits for her outside the gates of The Dalton School. Ew.)
But these are artists who have basked in the bright lights of celebrity, then led children into some pretty dark and damaging places. There’s enough reason to wonder if Allen is one of them.
As SIFF rolls out its red carpet, we should honor victims and their words as willingly as we do those who cast them in their dubious private productions.