January 21, 2014

Separating the Problematic Artist from their Work

During film awards season, it isn’t uncommon to find tributes or special dedications at ceremonies, celebrating the life’s work of prominent filmmakers, actors and actresses, producers, and more. Take for instance, the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Award, an honorary achievement presented at the Golden Globe Award ceremonies by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA). Last Sunday, at the 71st Golden Globe Awards, this honour was given to Woody Allen, the prestigious filmmaker, but also the alleged sexual abuser.

While he is responsible for great films like Annie Hall and Manhattan, Allen also allegedly molested his and long-time partner, Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter, Dylan, in 1992, when she was seven years old. Dylan has publically spoken about the sexual abuse, both as a child in a 1992 Vanity Fair article, and as an adult in last year’s follow-up article. Never mind Allen, at age 56, possessing nude photographs of Farrow’s then 19-year-old, adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn, and never mind Allen marrying Previn after the separation. An account by a survivor of sexual abuse is enough for me to believe the accusations against Allen.

The question that arises, one that has come up time and time again, is where do we draw the line between the artist’s work and his problematic biography? As feminists, can we always separate the two? Is it possible to enjoy Annie Hall or Midnight in Paris, while knowing of the allegations against Allen? Can we dance to Lady Gaga’s Do What You Want without a qualm, despite it featuring R. Kelly, an accused rapist? There are so many controversial directors, actors, photographers, producers, and artists in Hollywood, that it’s difficult to avoid them all, if not impossible.

“Think about how hard it is to avoid consuming media that has been touched by a creep, suspected or confirmed. You can’t quote Annie Hall, listen to “Ignition (Remix),” dance to Rihanna’s “Birthday Cake,” watch Steelers football, read GQ, wear the clothes of H&M, download BEYONCÉ, watch The Pianist or 12 Years a Slave, or click on this viral wedding video.”

-Amanda Hess (“R. Kelly, Terry Richardson, and the Power of the Bankable Creep” – www.slate.com)

It becomes clear that it’s not really a question of how to avoid associating with or enjoying works by these controversial entertainers. Rather, it is how willing we are to be aware of the physical and sexual abuse allegations of talented, yet problematic public figures. As long as we don’t ignore their actions, we can set our own boundaries and decide when watching or listening to their work becomes too uncomfortable.

Additional reading:

Were the Golden Globes right to celebrate Woody Allen?
R. Kelly, Terry Richardson, and the Power of the Bankable Creep
What You Should Know About the Abuse Allegations Against Woody Allen

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