[Content note: Discussion of abuse and sexual assault.]
Like many people, I read Dylan Farrow’s brave letter yesterday. The word ‘brave’ gets thrown about a lot, but I really do mean it here. It is incredibly brave.
There have been the usual defensive responses to her letter. One of the best articles I’ve read so far that addresses these responses is this one by Aaron Bady: Woody Allen’s Good Name. I’m going to quote from it extensively here, but do go read it in full:
“To be blunt: I think Woody Allen probably did it, though, of course, I could be wrong. But it’s okay if I’m wrong. For two reasons. First, because my opinion is not attached to a juridical apparatus—because I have not been empowered by jails and electric chairs and states of exception to destroy people’s lives—it isn’t necessary for me to err heavily on the side of ‘we need to be really fucking sure that the accused did it.’
The second reason it’s okay if I’m wrong is that I’m probably not wrong. It’s much more likely that I’m right. Because I am not on Woody Allen’s jury, I can be swayed by the fact that sexual violence is incredibly, horrifically common, much more common than it is for women to make up stories about sexual violence in pursuit of their own petty, vindictive need to destroy a great man’s reputation. We are in the midst of an ongoing, quiet epidemic of sexual violence, now as always. We are not in the midst of an epidemic of false rape charges, and that fact is important here. All things being equal, it’s more likely that the man who has spent a lifetime and a cinematic career walking the line of pedophilia (to put it mildly); all things being equal, the explanation that doesn’t require you to imagine a conspiracy of angry women telling lies for no reason is probably the right one.
What is the burden of proof for assuming that a person is lying? If you are a famous film director, it turns out to be quite high. You don’t have to say a word in your defense, in fact, and people who have directed documentaries about you will write lengthy essays in the Daily Beast tearing down the testimony of your accusers. You can just go about your life making movie after movie, and it’s fine. But if you are a woman who has accused a great film director of molesting you when you were seven, the starting point is the presumption that, without real evidence, you are not telling the truth. In the court of public opinion, a woman accusing a great film director of raping her has no credibility which his fans are bound to respect. He has something to lose, his good name. She does not, because she does not have a good name. She is living in hiding, under an assumed name. And when she is silent, the Daily Beast does not rise to her defense.
In a rape culture, there is no burden on us to presume that she is not a liar, no necessary imperative to treat her like a person whose account of herself can be taken seriously. It is important that we presume he is innocent. It is not important that we presume she is not making it all up out of female malice.”
In rape culture, we question the victim’s honesty and humanity, rather than focusing on predators. In rape culture, the ‘seeing both sides of the story’ argument is just a really cowardly way of saying: ‘I prefer to have my idol and nice films over respecting someone’s humanity’.
This is about rape culture, and it’s also about money. Even the good old defence of ‘art’ isn’t applicable here. What Hollywood is defending when it remains silent about this and allows a predator to continue making films while awarding and celebrating him is not the lofty ideal of ‘art’ but simply, naked profit. Amanda Hess wrote about this in her article, R. Kelly, Terry Richardson, and the Power of the Bankable Creep:
“Why would Beyoncé, proud feminist, work with Richardson, confirmed creep? Why would Gaga, proud feminist, work with Kelly, perennial suspected teen rapist? They all have one thing in common: They are bankable stars in the music industry. Beyoncé’s and Gaga’s feminism are undoubtedly important to many of their consumers, but the record industry doesn’t care about promoting women or ending child rape unless that message is selling this year. It simply requires its stars to keep making money and keep working with other people who do. Artists who hope to remain relevant in that industry would be wise to spread the lucrative message of empowerment while overlooking the powerful creeps in their midst.
Making money affords these creeps the power to abuse, and making more money washes away their sins.”
Hollywood won’t punish Allen, in fact it will continue to celebrate him because, money. Nothing will realistically be done because consumers keep consuming his product and actors keep working with him for the benefit of their own career. This is basically a prime example of what Germaine Greer once called the violence that capitalism inflicts upon people, turning us all into commodities. If we need further proof, today the Australian media decided to respond to Dylan Farrow’s article by re-framing the story around Cate Blanchett, whom Farrow names in her article, asking us all to consider the very pertinent issue of whether this will hurt Blanchett’s chances of getting an Oscar. Seriously. All I could think was: this is how much Farrow’s pain, trauma and humanity is worth to people – an Oscar, a gold statue representing an industry that likes to look away because, money.
Despite knowing all this, I still find it hard to digest the ethical and moral decisions made by individual actors who work with him; or any artist that knowingly works with a predator. Farrow said it best:
“What if it had been your child, Cate Blanchett? Louis CK? Alec Baldwin? What if it had been you, Emma Stone? Or you, Scarlett Johansson? You knew me when I was a little girl, Diane Keaton. Have you forgotten me?”
I’m glad she named names and I’m glad she made it personal, because it is personal and we should all take it personally.