Dear Hollywood: There’s No Excuse For Doing Woody Allen Films Now
Jude Law will soon star in the upcoming Woody Allen film, A Rainy Day in New York. His co-stars include Timothee Chalamet, Elle Fanning, Diego Luna, Selena Gomez, Griffin Newman and Rebecca Hall. These actors, big and small, mainstream and indie, have respectable careers of varying levels and work with the kind of regularity that many in the industry would kill for. They have awards to their name and fans who love them. None of them, in 2018, need to do a Woody Allen film.
This seems to be a realization that hit the latter two actors with incredible force following the now stratospheric industry shift that happened in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein revelations. As the entertainment world opened its doors to the reality of such change, the story of Dylan Farrow became utterly impossible to ignore. Many had ignored it successfully for a long time, pushing aside the allegations as the post-breakup ramblings of Mia Farrow, or declaring them to be none of their business. People wanted to work with Woody Allen. It meant something to work with Woody Allen. Even if the results weren’t good, it was a sacrifice people wanted to make because that guy made Annie Hall and that still carried a level of prestige.
For Griffin Newman and Rebecca Hall, that power has lost its lustre, and they became two of a mere handful of actors to declare their regret over working with Allen. Newman tweeted extensively about his regret, while Hall, who had previously worked with the director on Vicky Cristina Barcelona, gave her comments on Instagram, and offered an apology to Farrow, declaring, ‘I see, not only how complicated this matter is, but that my actions have made another woman feel silenced and dismissed.’ This followed a similar penitent statement from director Greta Gerwig, who had been asked about working with Allen following her Golden Globes win before clarifying her feelings in the New York Times. Ellen Page, who starred in the same Allen film with Gerwig, also said working with him was one of the biggest mistakes of her career. This week, Chalamet became the latest to release a statement on the matter, noting how he was constricted by contract obligations on what he could say but would still donate his salary from the upcoming movie to various charities, following in the footsteps of his castmates Hall and Newman.
This small group of actors, none of whom are major A-Listers or anywhere near the biggest actors Allen has worked with, have done something many of us thought impossible: They have punctured the seemingly impenetrable shields surrounding the director, thus taking down his decades-old mystique. Even as Weinstein fell, as Spacey was cut from a movie, and as some of Hollywood’s biggest power players were exposed as abusers, it was all but accepted that Allen would remain untouchable. He was just too popular, he meant too much to too many people, and the industry generally liked him. Stories of his friends in high places and the respect he commanded even at the top were well-known, and he was never feared or loathed like the bulldog Weinstein. Allen, they say, is an artist, and that commands loyalty like little else in an industry where it’s the most potent social capital next to profit.
Actors seem to sign on to any movie, regardless of what the role or project offers (Allen doesn’t give full scripts to actors, only their parts), because the hope is that this one will be the Blue Jasmine that lands them Oscar success in the way it did for Cate Blanchett. Yet we’ve seen this spiel so many times now, and it doesn’t benefit anyone aside from Allen. Watching Kate Winslet desperately shill for the tepid Wonder Wheel in the hopes that she’ll land some big award nomination has been exhausting and just a little pathetic. She’s doing her best work to promote something that leaves a bad taste in more than a few mouths. Kate Winslet didn’t need Woody Allen - she has an Oscar, a BAFTA, a Grammy, an Emmy, and credit as one of our generation’s finest actresses - yet she still saw worth in working on a film that’s been critically reviled, just because his name was attached to it. Justin Timberlake wanted the prestige too, although you wonder what one of the era’s biggest pop stars really has to gain from something like this, even if it had been a good film.
Allen makes a film a year, in part because he keeps costs low and he still plays well in countries like France, but his batting average for the past decade has been sorely lacking. For every Blue Jasmine, there is a Magic in the Moonlight or Wonder Wheel. Nowadays, the work is more likely to be mediocre than great. Even the critically loved stuff like Blue Jasmine can’t help but note how it’s still not classic Allen. His roles offer little to actors, particularly women (do you want to be sexy baby or the shrieking harpy whose name may as well be Bia Barrow?). The mere possibility of a decent movie keeps the actors and the funders coming back for more. Tenth time’s the charm, right?
The big problem with these films now isn’t the quality or the opportunities, but the stench of culpability that follows so many of these people. I believe Dylan Farrow, and it is astounding to me the lengths some have gone to in order to discredit her and her mother. Some people, so eager to cling to their love of Manhattan and Hannah and her Sisters, prefer to imagine a circumstance where Mia Farrow is the modern day Medea rather than accept that their favourite director did something horrific. Even as he fills his work with questionable misogyny, obvious Farrow stand-ins and May-December romances between bright-eyed ingenues and self-insert older men, we hear cries of ‘Separate the art from the artist’. Any actor signing onto an Allen film today, or in the past couple of years since Farrow’s open letter went viral, cannot ignore the elephant in the room. Even the biggest softball interviewer will bring it up at some point. They have to know that the floodgates have been opened. Audiences are less forgiving of willful ignorance. They don’t want to hear about how working with Woody Allen has been your dream since childhood. They have no more patience for pleading the fifth and claims they had no idea what was going on.
Watching the plethora of Woody Allen stars who walked the Golden Globes red carpet while wearing all-black or the #TimesUp pins on their clothes offered an insight into how insular Hollywood can be. It’s time to stand up against sexual harassment and abuse, except when it personally affects you. As evidenced by Rebecca Hall, Greta Gerwig and even Mira Sorvino, there comes a time when you simply cannot shroud yourselves in ignorance any longer. Even if you have to be publicly embarrassed into giving a damn, it’s a preferable option to being seen on a red carpet with your arm around Woody Allen. There is nothing to gain from doing his films now: You risk becoming complicit in an industry-wide problem, it will be a stain on your career until retirement, and even if you’re callous enough to not care about such things, why do bad movies just for the possibility of prestige?
A Rainy Day in New York will be released some time this year. Rebecca Hall and Griffin Newman’s absences on the promotional trail will be keenly felt. They, and others by their side, have opened up the doors to scrutiny that Allen must face (Selena Gomez’s own mother called her out on working with Allen in an Instagram post), but it’s an interrogation those he surrounds himself with must also deal with. The actors will be questioned, the distributors and funders at Amazon will be forced to answer, and maybe, just maybe, Allen will be too. It’s not too late to give Dylan Farrow justice, and it’s not too late for Hollywood to own up to its culpability. There’s no amount of Annie Halls in the world that can make up for this, and there’s certainly no amount of Wonder Wheels either.