Do sex-abuse allegations taint an artist’s work?

Woody Allen’s latest film has debuted amid controversy about Dylan Farrow’s sex-abuse allegations.
Woody Allen’s latest film has debuted amid controversy about Dylan Farrow’s sex-abuse allegations. AP

When do you decide that allegations of sexual abuse by a celebrity someone — actor, director, musician, politician, football coach, whoever — are so damning that you want nothing to do with anything that person is putting out in the world?

I’ve been thinking about that the past few days after seeing a quote from Kristen Stewart addressing the Woody Allen situation. The actress co-stars opposite Jesse Eisenberg in Allen’s new film Cafe Society, which had a high-profile premiere at the Cannes Film Festival last week.

In a recent interview with Variety’s Ramin Setoodeh, Stewart “admits that initially she had concerns about working with Allen. She was aware of the sexual-abuse allegations of his daughter Dylan Farrow, who wrote an open letter to the New York Times in 2014, condemning actresses like Emma Stone and Scarlett Johansson for supporting his work.”

After she was cast in the film, Setoodeh writes, “Stewart had a conversation with Eisenberg about the situation. ‘I was like, “What do you think? We don’t know any of these people involved. I can personalize situations, which would be very wrong.” At the end of the day, Jesse and I talked about this.’ 

Wow. That’s good. I’m not sure I’ve heard any actor who has appeared in an Allen film since Farrow’s New York Times piece actually admit to grappling with this. The rest of what she says, however, starts to tip over into self-serving celebrity defensiveness, of wrapping oneself in the cloak of if-it’s-not-fawning-it’s-false.

“If we were persecuted for the amount of s--- that’s been said about us that’s not true, our lives would be over,” she says. “The experience of making the movie was so outside of that, it was fruitful for the two of us to go on with it.”

OK, fine. Stewart has compartmentalized this in her mind.

Some context: In 2012, she was photographed in public kissing her Snow White and the Huntsman director Rupert Sanders, who was married at the time; Stewart herself was in a longtime relationship with actor Robert Pattinson. Not long after, she issued an apology to Pattinson for what she (or let’s be real, her publicist) called a “momentary indiscretion,” saying that she was “deeply sorry for the hurt and embarrassment I’ve caused to those close to me and everyone this has affected.”

You have to think Stewart hated the fact that this played out in the media — to chew over and pass judgment — and worse, that she had to stoop to issuing that public apology. Whatever her actions off-set, it had nothing to do with who she is as an actor (even if, to many of her fans, it had a lot to do with her image).

Perhaps that was on her mind when she had that conversation with Eisenberg.

She — and any other actor, producer or crew member — is, after all, free to work with whomever she wants. (And honestly, would it make any difference if she had been bold enough to say, “I have read the allegations and they concern me deeply, but my career and artistic desires were more important”?)

Certainly Allen himself is free to continue making films. (It’s worth noting that in Variety, Setoodeh writes that “Eisenberg says he doesn’t recall the conversation” with Stewart. OK.)

Just two days after the Variety story appeared online, the Hollywood Reporter published a counterpoint of sorts in the form of a guest column from Allen’s son Ronan Farrow:

“Being in the media as my sister’s story made headlines, and Woody Allen’s PR engine revved into action, gave me a window into just how potent the pressure can be to take the easy way out.”

Allen was never prosecuted, Farrow points out, but not because there was no evidence to pursue a case. Here’s what he writes: “In a rare step, the prosecutor announced publicly that he had ‘probable cause’ to prosecute Allen, and attributed the decision to not do so to ‘the fragility of the child victim.’ 

But what about our choices as audience members?

I didn’t see Allen’s Blue Jasmine when it came out in 2013. Dylan Farrow’s letter in The New York Times ran online Feb. 1, 2014. The Oscars were broadcast on March 2 that year. So for about a month, I debated with myself: Do I have the stomach to watch this man’s film?

Ultimately I did, and it really is one of Allen’s more insightful works, the way it dissects the grasping, often bleakly comedic desperation of a wealthy New York society wife (played by Cate Blanchett, who ended up winning an Oscar for her performance) brought to her knees when her husband is convicted of high-finance shenanigans.

But that will be the last Woody Allen film I watch. Your decisions might be different. But I have no desire to watch his movies, past or future. Nor am I curious about his forthcoming series for Amazon. That’s a dicey position to be in when you cover TV and film.

Collectively we have shunned the work of Bill Cosby, and I wonder, is it because, so far, 60 women have come forward with stories of rape at his hands? Does Allen get different treatment from us because just a single person — his child — came forward?

Allen spoke at Cannes’ opening news conference Wednesday, and Variety’s Setoodeh was there and transcribed a quote from the filmmaker that says it all:

“I’m just going to continue to make films as long as people are foolish enough to put up the money to support me.”

Nina Metz is an entertainment writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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