It’s been easy for me to say “let’s listen to Dylan Farrow and Bill Cosby’s accusers without discounting these men’s previous important body of work” up until now, since neither of them has made anything critically acclaimed in the few years since Blue Jasmine.
Frankly, I’ve been relieved every time Woody Allen’s new play or film has been declared forgettable at best, because it gets me off the hook. Bad reviews mean I don’t have to choose between my appetite for art and my feminist ideology. I had the same reaction to the cancellation of Cosby’s upcoming show.
But now that Amazon, a company with its own major ethical problems, has decided to give Allen the reins for a brand-new show, I (and many other feminist fans of Allen’s work) may actually have to pick one side of the fine line I’ve been treading. Immediately after the announcement, social media was split. Some said this was a TV revolution. Others reminded us of Dylan Farrow’s words:
Perhaps it was inevitable that someone with money would snatch up Allen, and given the Jewish, talky, and irreverent tone of Transparent, which was a critical hit — and, now, an award winner — for Amazon Prime, execs may think they have a sure thing with Allen.
Indeed, Allen’s career has yet to take the kind of hit that Cosby’s has recently been dealt (although Cosby floated above the accusations against him for years) for a number of reasons. Among them are: good old-fashioned “white male genius” privilege. This 2014 dissection of Allen’s public statements by Lili Loofbourow shows just how far the double standard permeated, raking the women and children in the case over the coals while giving Allen’s bizarre statements a pass. “Everyone keeps talking about the lack of evidence in this case,” she writes. “We’ve been looking at it from the wrong point of view. There is evidence EVERYWHERE. Not that Mia lied, but that Woody did. Over and over.”
Then there are more specific, easily quantifiable issues. In this case, Allen has only one accuser, who was a child at the time, which makes the details of the accusation extra-horrifying — but that also makes it easier for people to wave it away and mumble something about “murky circumstances.” Cosby has nearly 30 accusers, and their sheer number has overwhelmed most, but not all, of his defenders.
Beyond this, puritan Americans freak out over ideals like hypocrisy and penance more than we focus on actual wrongdoing and its consequences. Much like R. Kelly, who has also mostly managed to float above accusations of predatory behavior and has an oeuvre that in part explores his sex-fiend persona, Allen’s work depicts its creator as a difficult guy with a flock of personal demons and neuroses tormenting him at all times. So when these types of artists’ alleged crimes are revealed, there’s less of a “you betrayed us” reaction than there has been with Cosby. Cosby presented himself as a conservative family man for years, even going on a moral crusade exhorting black America to “pull its pants up.” His persona was an effective screen for his own alleged misconduct, but it meant that when he fell, he had farther to go. This may be a stupid way of judging people, but it’s also a human one.
When Allen’s Amazon show, which is in a pre-pre-embryonic form as I type, appears, I’m hoping that early buzz says “it sucks” and I don’t have to pay the slightest attention to it. It would be so simple if Allen’s era of artistic work were simply a closed book, and we would never have to pay a dime to support his continued presence in the cultural discourse.
Yet Allen’s work tends to weave in and out, quality-wise, which makes it equally likely that this show could be well received — in which case I’m genuinely not sure what I’ll do. I may just give it a pass anyway, as many female critics are already pledging to do. I may do what I did for Transparent, which is borrow someone’s Amazon Prime password to watch, so that I’m not spending any of my extra dollars on Amazon or Allen’s show.
Consuming art ethically is incredibly difficult. But Amazon should have followed its own lead with Transparent in a different way and offered this new platform to one of the young female writers and directors — like Gillian Robespierre or Lake Bell — who are clearly influenced by Allen’s artistic legacy and do a good job carrying it forward, but don’t hurt survivors of abuse with their continued presence on the public scene.