The Morality of the Oscars

Amy Milin, ‘16

Following the 2014 Academy Awards, we all chuckle at rewatching the latest footage of Jennifer Lawrence falling. But another more serious issue surrounded this year’s Awards, too: the Dylan Farrow-Woody Allen controversy.

On February 1st, an open letter to Woody Allen from his adoptive daughter Dylan Farrow was released on a New York Times blog. It was back in 1993 when Mia Farrow, ex-girlfriend of Allen and mother of Dylan first claimed (after twelve years with Allen) that he had sexually abused her daughter. But the younger Farrow has never opened up about the issue independently until now. The letter details the when and where of the alleged abuse and Farrow’s own issues growing up as a victim of sexual abuse. The letter also calls out recent celebrity collaborators of Allen. Dylan asks of Cate Blanchett, who at the time was nominated for an Oscar in her role in Allen’s Blue Jasmine, “What if it had been your child…?” She accuses the media of ignoring the case and thus “fail[ing] the survivors of sexual assault and abuse.”

The evidence supporting Dylan’s allegations of sexual abuse is controversial, and many doubt her claims. However, there are also many who believe her allegations, in particular those who have been victims of sexual abuse.

Dylan’s letter prompted controversy concerning the Oscar nomination of Allen’s Blue Jasmine for Best Screenplay and the nomination of the film’s leading lady Blanchett. Many of the aforementioned supporters of Dylan’s case believe that these nominations – mainly the former – are insulting and that they ignore that Woody Allen is, well, terrible.

There is an essential question that arises from all of this: should morality play a role in the nominations for the Oscars and other award shows? Should award shows base nominations upon art and performance alone, or should the behavior of the creators be taken into account? Currently, it seems that morality does not significantly affect nominations, but it also seems that the creators of nominated works do in fact affect the success of the work. Personality, previous wins, and popularity (which are, of course, not the only indicators of quality) do influence who and what is nominated as well as who and what wins in many award shows. If these things matter, then should not morality, too? If award shows are political affairs – and they certainly are – then should not the significant moral transgressions of artists be considered as well?

However, award shows like the Oscars and the Grammys are intended to celebrate and reward art, and art is able to exist separately from the artist. Even if the decisions are based on factors other than quality, the overall purpose of the show remains. Art is not ruined by the transgressions of the creator; it is the personal reception and not the artist’s intention that matters. If Woody Allen did sexually abuse his seven-year-old adopted daughter – and even if he sees any of his movies as an expression of or personal justification for those actions – one should not feel guilty if one of his movies strikes a chord that is totally unrelated to his being a child molester. The public should not feel guilty if that movie is widely and positively received and wins an award or several. Punishing a creation and its admirers for the creator’s wrongdoings is unfair.

The corrupt creator, however, should not be celebrated as if his offenses have not occurred. The public eye tends to shut very tightly after widening at a controversy. Since the initial accusations of abuse – and Allen’s questionable marriage to Soon-Yi Previn, the adoptive daughter of Mia Farrow whom he essentially raised from when she was about ten – Allen has received several awards celebrating him, not just his work. He has won several lifetime achievement awards, such as the Golden Globe he won very recently. He is often praised with no mention of his transgressions. Just as the virtues and failings of the artist should not affect the reception of the art, the virtues and failings of the art should not affect the reception of the artist.

Look at the comments section of any article regarding a Woody Allen scandal, and there will be people exerting themselves to assert his innocence with no more (perhaps less) evidence than the people who take the opposite view. Why defend someone who seems, by most accounts, to be an utter creep and a possible child molester? Obviously, the answer is that people don’t want to love something that was created by an utter creep and possible child molester. One’s love of the art does not require one’s love of the artist, but people feel that way. The link between creator and creation is very strong in our minds, and very clear during award shows.

But there are ways to weaken that link. Nominate a film for “Best Film” if it qualifies, and nominate the people who worked on it if they qualify. But do not nominate the shady guy surrounded by scandal, even if he is talented and would qualify if he were not in such a situation. Affording so much praise to someone with such questionable behavior teaches people that they can get away with wrongdoing and go on to succeed fantastically; of course, that is a true lesson. But it also teaches that the media and the public support that sentiment. If that is true, as it may well be, then it must change. Ceasing to teach it is the beginning of that change.

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