Woody Allen has never been charged with a sex crime.
In the court of public opinion, however, a large segment long ago began viewing the famed director a deviant for two reasons. First, in 1992, his former partner Mia Farrow accused him of molesting his then 7-year-old adoptive daughter Dylan Farrow, an accusation Allen has denied. Then in 1997, he married Soon-Yi Previn, Farrow’s adopted daughter. At the time, he was 62 and Previn was 27.
While Frank Maco, a Connecticut state’s attorney said in 1993 he had “probable cause” to prosecute Allen on sexual molestation charges, he decided not to pursue the case, the New York Times reported, adding that Mia Farrow agreed the move was in the child’s best interest.
Still, actors continue to feel the need to defend why they appear in his films.
The latest is Kate Winslet, who stars alongside Justin Timberlake in Allen’s upcoming 1950s-set drama Wonder Wheel. Winslet was asked by a New York Times reporter if the past allegations against Allen made her question the decision to accept the role.
“I didn’t know Woody and I don’t know anything about that family,” Winslet told the Times. “As the actor in the film, you just have to step away and say, I don’t know anything, really, and whether any of it is true or false. Having thought it all through, you put it to one side and just work with the person.”
Working with Allen turned out to be an “extraordinary” experience, she added.
Entertainment news outlets dubbed Winslet’s response as both clumsy and awkward. But her response was in line with other stars who have appeared in Allen’s movies, who praise his skills as a director but remain detached when it comes to the allegations, seemingly in the name of impartiality.
The public pressure on actors to defend working with Allen intensified in January 2014, when he was given a lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes. A month later, Dylan Farrow published a controversial column about Allen in the Times. She wrote:
“… when I was seven years old, Woody Allen took me by the hand and led me into a dim, closet-like attic on the second floor of our house. He told me to lay on my stomach and play with my brother’s electric train set. Then he sexually assaulted me. He talked to me while he did it, whispering that I was a good girl, that this was our secret, promising that we’d go to Paris and I’d be a star in his movies.”
She said she developed a fear of being touched by men, developing an eating disorder and eventually began self-harming by cutting herself. She panicked every time she saw his face, which seemed to be everywhere.
She closed by calling out several actors who appeared in Allen’s films.
“What if it had been your child, Cate Blanchett? Louis CK? Alec Baldwin? What if it had been you, Emma Stone? Or you, Scarlett Johansson?” she wrote. “You knew me when I was a little girl, Diane Keaton. Have you forgotten me?”
Allen has denied the accusation.
Two years later, Ronan Farrow, Allen’s son with Mia Farrow, wrote a column in the Hollywood Reporter in support of Dylan. He divulged memories he had of Allen and Dylan’s relationship, including disturbing images such as Allen “climbing into her bed in the middle of the night, forcing her to suck his thumb.”
When promoting Allen’s 2016 Cafe Society, co-stars Blake Lively and Kristen Stewart were questioned by reporters about their decision to work with Allen. Both defended the director.
“It’s amazing what Woody has written for women,” Lively told the Los Angeles Times, adding that the allegations against Allen didn’t give her pause. “It’s very dangerous to factor in things you don’t know anything about. I could (only) know my experience. And my experience with Woody is he’s empowering to women.”
Stewart said she and Jesse Eisenberg, who also appeared in “Cafe Society,” discussed the allegations against the film’s director and decided they didn’t know enough for it to affect their decision.
“I was like, ‘What do you think? We don’t know any of these people involved. I can personalise situations, which would be very wrong,” Stewart told Variety. “The experience of making the movie was so outside of that, it was fruitful for the two of us to go on with it.”
Over the years, many others who had appeared in Allen’s films have defended either the director or their career decisions.
“I have nothing to say about that,” Diane Keaton, who appeared in several of Allen’s early movies, told the Guardian in 2014 when asked about the allegations. “Except: I believe my friend.”
Scarlett Johansson, who starred in Allen’s 2005 film Match Point, also said there’s no way to know what really happened.
“It’s not like this is somebody that’s been prosecuted and found guilty of something, and you can then go, ‘I don’t support this lifestyle or whatever.’ I mean, it’s all guesswork,” she told the Guardian.
Not everyone in Hollywood is indifferent to Allen, but any criticism from actors has come mostly from those who haven’t appeared in his movies.
On a 2015 episode of the podcast WTF with Marc Maron, actress Lena Dunham said she was “decidedly pro-Dylan Farrow and decidedly disgusted with Woody Allen’s behaviour.”
And comedian Sarah Silverman tweeted in 2016 that she believed the accounts of Dylan and Ronan Farrow. “My comedy hero Woody Allen, and his untouchable PR machine and our not wanting it to be true. But it is,” she wrote, including a link to Ronan Farrow’s piece.
Allen himself simply dismissed the accusations and at last year’s Cannes Film Festival said he no longer considers them.
“I’ve said all I can say about it,” he said, according to the New York Times. “I have so moved on that I never think about it.”