Over the past eight months the #MeToo movement has gained momentus speed, triggered by over 50 women accusing Harvey Weinstein of sexual abuse and misconduct. Once the ball got rolling, many more men and women gained the confidence to speak about powerful men in Hollywood who were once deemed untouchable; outing public figures such a Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K, Steven Seagal, Ed Westwick and almost 100 more. But magically, Woody Allen wasn’t included in the narrative, still managing to remain unaffected and celebrated within the industry, and seemingly within the University of Sheffield, despite the accusations against him.
In case you didn’t know, here’s a quick recap:
Allen’s adoptive daughter, Dylan Farrow, accused him of sexually assaulting her at the age of seven. Her stories were supported by three eyewitnesses. She has stuck true to the same story for over 20 years now. At the time of the assault, Allen was in therapy due to his inappropriate behaviour around Dylan and her mother ordered babysitters to never leave him alone with the children. Following an investigation in 1993, no charges were brought against Allen, who denied all allegations, and his career and stardom remained intact, even when he went on to marry his ex-wife’s adoptive daughter.
Indeed, the School of English at this very university still continues to run a module titled “Love and Death in the Films of Woody Allen”. Surely a university as liberal as ours would opt out of celebrating the work of an alleged abuser?
When the #MeToo movement is so powerful and the SU regularly runs events speaking out against assault and abuse, it feels wrong that this module continues to be taught. Whether it means to or not, dedicating an entire module to one person puts them on a pedestal, celebrating their work and holding them up as an example.
One may argue that we should be able to separate the art from the person, but that’s a dangerous rhetoric. Excusing the deeds of those in powerful positions sets a precedent. Letting Allen off because he makes good films suggests we should let off all abusers in our own life because they’re a good laugh.
By ignoring the accusations and continuing to celebrate Allen’s work, you become an apologist, you enable these awful acts and abuses of power to continue, and you perpetuate the culture that allows men like Weinstein to do what they’ve done, placing powerful, rich men above the law. You cannot separate the work from the person, especially when the abusers face is plastered all over posters, screens and red carpets despite the changes trying to be made in the industry.
English students can go an entire year without studying anything by a person of colour, we can go entire modules and even years only reading work by men, but somehow the only director they could think to dedicate a module to was Woody Allen? It’s hard to see how the module can continue to be justified. There are so many other directors they could have picked that would be more revolutionary, more interesting, and far less problematic. In a time where victims and survivors are gaining the strength and confidence to come forward and try to clear Hollywood of abuse and misconduct, and a time of a general all-round increase in support for victims of abuse and empowerment against violence and manipulation, I for one am not here for an entire module dedicated to a man with such a questionable past. And I am certainly not here for the University being passive and apologetic in ignoring that.
Official University of Sheffield Response:
“Students engaging with the arts and humanities encounter challenging moral, philosophical, political and ethical questions as an integral part of all the subjects we study. The ability to investigate, question and evaluate them contextually, dispassionately and without prejudice are the mature analytical qualities and skills fostered by studying the arts and humanities.
“Decisions about whether to offer, change or withdraw modules are taken by staff in consultation with the School’s Learning and Teaching Committee on the basis of collective reflections on the written evaluations of students taking the module. These decisions tend to be taken at the end of each academic year. This module will be reviewed in the usual way at that point.
“It’s important to make clear that the module is not (nor has ever been) a straightforward celebration of Allen and his work. In lectures and seminars, we do not avoid or swerve the allegations of sexual molestation. Nor does teaching ever airbrush out deeply problematic questions of gender, sexuality and race in Allen’s films themselves. These questions are raised consistently and repeatedly throughout the course. Direct reference is also made to the accusations surrounding Allen both at the beginning and end of the course and there is a dedicated folder on the course website with articles and columns on both sides of the debate, including recent think-pieces published online.Students are not — by any stretch — required to write hagiographies of Allen; they are, however, asked to interrogate the cultural relevance and controversial status of his film-making. Art and culture ask difficult questions of all of us. Why does contemporary culture celebrate certain figures and not others? Is the director even the most important person in the creation of a film? Might an Oscar-winning film like Annie Hall be as much the creation of Diane Keaton as its director? Talking about these films and the context that surround them seems to me more relevant and urgent in light of the #MeToo and #Time’sUp campaign, not less so. One of the assessment questions relates directly to this: How do we engage with Woody Allen’s Films in a Post-Weinstein world?”
– Dr Jonathan Ellis, School of English
Image: ABC Films