The XX Factor

Was the Golden Globes Wrong to Give a Lifetime Achievement Award to Woody Allen?

Sunday night at the Golden Globes, Woody Allen was presented with the Cecil B. DeMille award for lifetime achievement, reigniting the debate about how the entertainment industry and fans should deal with artists and performers believed to be sexual predators. Both Mia Farrow and her son Ronan Farrow expressed their displeasure with the tribute on Twitter. Mia simply stated that she was switching over to the season premiere of Girls, but Ronan elaborated on his objections:

Presumably, he was talking about his adopted sister Dylan Farrow (who now goes by another name). In 1994, the courts looked at Mia Farrow’s accusations that Allen had molested 7-year-old Dylan and found them inconclusive but were concerned enough to deny Allen visitation. Dylan spoke with Vanity Fair in 2013 and affirmed the allegations, saying that it was an ongoing problem that she tolerated because she thought “this was how fathers treated their daughters. This was normal interaction, and I was not normal for feeling uncomfortable about it.” She then says she finally told her mother after an incident in the attic, because she was “cracking” under the stress. Allen denies the allegations.

What is indisputable is that Allen started a relationship with another of Farrow’s adopted daughters, Soon-Yi Previn, when Previn was 20 years old. Mia Farrow discovered the relationship when she found naked pictures that Allen had taken of Previn, who was around 10 years old when Allen first started a relationship with her mother. Both Previn and Allen deny any underage funny business in their relationship. They’ve been married since 1997.

Clearly, Mia and Ronan Farrow think it’s inappropriate for the Globes to honor Woody Allen because he’s an alleged child molester and a confirmed creep, but the entire situation raises uncomfortable questions about how everyone else should reconcile Allen’s genius as an artist with his ickiness as a human being. It’s a question that has come up many times before, most notably in the cases of R. Kelly and Roman Polanski, the former who has settled molestation accusations repeatedly out of court and the latter of whom was convicted of statutory rape and fled the country rather than do jail time. Should the industry and fans register their disapproval with sexual predators and the justice system’s inability to properly deal with them by boycotting their work and barring them from receiving awards? Or should we separate our appreciation for the work from our judgment on the fallible human beings who created it?

It’s a complicated question, made even more so by the idiosyncratic relationship between each artist’s body of work and personality. With R. Kelly, rock critic Jim DeRogatis has argued that the problem is when an artist’s bad behavior inflects his work and bottom line. “There are not pro-rape Led Zeppelin songs. There are not pro-wife-beating James Brown songs,” he says, pointing out that Kelly’s bad boy sexual persona actually moves records. It’s a little easier to separate the art from the artist in the case of Polanski, whose most famous movie is adamantly anti-rape (at least by Satan). Allen’s work falls into more of a gray area, with characters frequently making bad—though not illegal—sexual choices out of human weakness. That could read as an apology for his own behavior, just as surely as R. Kelly’s Trapped in the Closet series reads uncomfortably like an apology for his own misdeeds. The personal nature of Allen’s work, especially when he casts himself in his own movies, makes it much harder to separate the art from the artist. Then again, the allegations of criminal behavior against Allen are less substantial than against Polanski or Kelly, making the situation even murkier. 

To make the whole situation even more fraught, Diane Keaton accepted last night’s award on Allen’s behalf by singing a little ditty about friendship that turned the moment not just into a tribute to his work but a tribute to the man himself. There’s a case to be made for trying to separate the art from the artist, but Keaton and the chummy industry around her seemed to think we should forgive a man’s sins because we like his movies. That’s too big an ask.