The Golden Globes, Woody Allen, And How Awards Shows Can Honor Artists Who Have Done Horrible Things


Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in 'Annie Hall.'

The biggest moment of the Golden Globes last night may not have happened in the International Ballroom of the Beverly Hilton, but on Twitter. During Diane Keaton’s meandering tribute to Woody Allen, who was receiving a lifetime achievement award, Ronan Farrow, Allen’s son with ex-partner Mia Farrow, tweeted:

He was referring to allegations that Allen had molested his seven-year-old adopted daughter Dylan, Ronan’s sister. As Maureen Orth reported in Vanity Fair in November, “in December 1991, Allen had formally adopted two of Mia’s children, 15-year-old Moses and 7-year-old Dylan, even though he was in therapy for inappropriate behavior toward Dylan.” The next summer, Orth wrote “after disappearing with Allen in Mia’s Connecticut country house and reappearing without underpants, Dylan told her mother that Allen had stuck his finger up her vagina and kissed her all over in the attic.” Allen has denied her charges, and staff at Yale-New Haven Hospital and Connecticut state investigators split on whether Dylan was a credible witness. Ultimately, charges weren’t filed against Allen, though a number of investigators believed Dylan.

It’s true that Allen hasn’t been convicted of anything, but it remains an incredibly ugly part of his history that, until Orth’s piece, had faded in the public memory, eclipsed by Allen’s affair with and marriage to Soon-Yi Previn, Farrow’s daughter, which has become the placeholder for the sexually queasy air that surrounds Allen. But his legal innocence doesn’t mean that anyone’s required to like Allen, or that it’s not incredibly jarring to see a public tribute to him that completely ignores the profound discomfort many people feel about Allen’s personal life and that has affected the way they see his work.

The point of awards like the Golden Globes is that they’re meant to recognize that terrible people can still make great art. I think it’s important to acknowledge that the gap between personal behavior and art can be understated as often as it’s overemphasized. Orth pointed out that Blue Jasmine is substantially about adoption, a theme that Allen of course has personal experience with. The discussion about Jim DeRogatis’ reporting about R. Kelly’s sexual abuse of young women is an important reminder that Kelly’s sexual deviance is an important part of his musical brand, and that his preference for particular acts is not actually separate from the women he likes to perform those acts on.

That doesn’t mean you can’t honor the art, even if it comes from a terrible place, or at terrible cost to people who are often obscured by the work itself. And I’m not even sure it means you have to talk about sexual assault allegations when you’re honoring Woody Allen’s work, or about Roman Polanski’s flight from justice when you’re giving him a Best Director award. What I do think awards shows have an obligation to do, if they want to be thought of as classy and sensitive, is to make sure that these awards aren’t granted in a way that makes the producers of those shows and presenters who have to introduce them look clueless or like they’re perpetuating a coverup. Sticking to the work and avoiding personal praise of the person in question might be a good minimum standard.

It may be true, as Diane Keaton said in accepting Allen’s award that: “It’s kind of hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that 179 of the world’s most captivating actresses have appeared in Woody Allen’s films. And there’s a reason for this. And the reason is, they wanted to. They wanted to because Woody’s women can’t be compartmentalized. They struggle, they love, they fall apart, they dominate, they’re flawed. They are, in fact, the hallmark of Woody’s work. But what’s even more remarkable is absolutely nothing links these unforgettable characters from the fact that they came from the mind of Woody Allen.” But if you’re going to go deep into a discussion of Allen’s fictional women in an awards speech, the longer you go on, the more obvious it becomes that you’re leaving something out. Similarly, singing “Make New Friends,” a song most commonly associated with the Girl Scouts, to express what a wonderful friend Allen has been to Keaton, sounds doubly childish and inappropriate given that a whole lot of people don’t feel like Allen would be a good friend at all. It’s very nice that Diane Keaton has had a friendship and collaborative partnership that is important to her. But that has not exactly been everyone’s experience, much less everyone’s in Hollywood.

One of the hallmarks of awards shows is meant to be their spontaneity, the idea that you’re getting an unfiltered reaction from people who are often among the most controlled and manicured figures on the planet. But as charming as, say, Emma Thompson chucking her high heels away in an act of tipsy protest, can be, spontaneity doesn’t always reveal actors, directors, and showrunners to be thoughtful, kind, grateful, and human. Sometimes it showcases privilege and myopia. Allen didn’t come to the Golden Globes himself, in keeping with his long-standing practice of not attending awards shows. It might have been better for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association to let the empty hole created by his presence go unfilled.