There's a disconnect between the reverence some of us feel for certain icons and the disgust we ought to feel about things they've done away from work. We tend to manage that paradox by separating public from private, as if we only need concern ourselves with the parts that affect us; the rest are for others to worry about.
In no case has that choice to keep worshipping a star despite his appalling behavior been more marked, or more disturbing, than that of Woody Allen.
On Sunday, Allen may be honored with a screenwriting Academy Award for "Blue Jasmine." It would come on the heels of his grown daughter's allegation, first in a Vanity Fair article in November and then in a New York Times blog, that he sexually assaulted her when she was 7. He denies the claim, and it didn't stop the Hollywood Foreign Press Association from giving Allen a Golden Globe lifetime achievement award last month. Nor, according to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, should it interfere with its artistic recognition of him. "The Academy honors achievement in film, not the personal lives of filmmakers and artists," its spokesman said in an email to the Times.
The academy can shrug off an accusation of child rape as a "personal life" issue because Allen was never convicted criminally and the statute of limitations expired. Dylan's mother, actress Mia Farrow, never pressed charges because the Connecticut state prosecutor felt Dylan was too young and fragile to testify. But he still found probable cause against Allen. Dylan's accounts still caused a psychiatrist to alert state police. And authorities still believed enough to deny Allen custody or visitation with Dylan based in part on observations from babysitters.
Movie consumers vote with our dollars, our patronage and our loyalty. If we believe Dylan, how can we continue to look at Allen's work the same way?
She wrote that her growing-up years were haunted by his getting away with it, that she suffered depression, an eating disorder, self-mutilation and a terror of being touched by a man. Allen's rebuttal in the Times claimed Mia Farrow had planted ideas of abuse in Dylan's head out of revenge for his relationship with Mia's daughter, Soon-Yi Previn. He called it "the self-serving transparency of her malevolence."
Maybe Dylan asks a lot in wanting universal condemnation of Allen for what she says he did to her. But she makes a powerful argument for how society fails survivors of sexual assault when it offers blind allegiance to the people they say hurt them - especially when those people are big-name movie directors and stars. "That torment was made worse by Hollywood," she wrote. "All but a precious few (my heroes) turned a blind eye."
I couldn't see Allen's films for a long time after he, at 54, was revealed to have secretly been having an affair with and taking nude, sexually explicit photos of 19-year-old Soon-Yi. His movie plots involving an aging male protagonist romancing a woman half his age creeped me out. Though Soon-Yi was legally old enough to consent - and later marry Allen - some experts like Elizabeth Barnhill, who heads the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault, still consider that relationship sexual abuse.
When Allen was 42, he dated a 17-year-old high school student. There is, at the very least, a very unsettling pattern. Still, I began to disconnect my feelings about Allen's public and private persona enough to see his movies. Dylan's words now are a wake-up call. It takes courage for sexual assault and incest survivors to come forward, especially when the accused is an icon. They're disbelieved, stigmatized and even vilified for maligning reputations.
As consumers, some of us try to live by our values by not buying clothing brands that exploit child labor or eating meat produced under inhumane conditions. Yet behavior we wouldn't tolerate by politicians - or the guy across the street - we tend to forgive more easily in entertainers. They're quirky, Bohemian, creative geniuses.
But what are we telling the child who has told us her father's actions destroyed her? That frankly, we don't give a damn.
The motion picture academy can stick to its case for strictly honoring "achievement in film." But isn't that like saying of the anti-apartheid movement's boycott of South Africa that our investments there were about money, not human rights? At a certain point, you can't separate one part of the package from the others.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Rekha Basu is a columnist for the Des Moines (Iowa) Register. Readers may send her email at email@example.com.