Scarlett Johansson’s Persistent, Baffling Defense of Woody Allen Could Ruin Her Oscar Chances
The actress has turned in the best performance of her career in “Marriage Story” but can’t stop defending the accused sexual predator.
It’s not a good day to be Scarlett Johansson’s publicist. In a lengthy Vanity Fair cover story published on Tuesday, the actress decided to double down on her defense of friend and collaborator Woody Allen. The new interview comes just over two months after Johansson caught flak for comments she made to The Hollywood Reporter about the director/accused child molester. “I love Woody,” she said in the Sept. 4 interview. “I believe him, and I would work with him anytime.”
Ahead of the Academy Awards early next year, Johansson is widely considered a frontrunner in the Best Actress category for her raw, moving performance in Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story. The critically favored film from Netflix is also expected to earn nods for Adam Driver and Laura Dern. On top of all that, the 35-year-old received rave reviews this fall for her work in another buzzy film, Jojo Rabbit. The bottom line is that this has been a great year for Johansson, who has long been overlooked by the Academy, and thus a confusing time for her to go on a “Free Woody Allen” press tour.
Johansson worked with Allen on Match Point (2005), Scoop (2006), and Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008), films that helped cement her status as a formidable Hollywood star. Since then, a disturbing 2014 op-ed in The New York Times has brought Dylan Farrow’s decades-old allegations of sexual assault against Allen to the forefront of public discourse once again. In the op-ed, Farrow described her adoptive father’s alleged abuse in horrifying detail for the first time.
“When I was seven years old,” she began, “Woody Allen took me by the hand and led me to 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.”
She ended the heart-wrenching open letter with a call to the powerful actors who continued to work with him, including, yes, Johansson. “What if it had been your child, Cate Blanchett?” she asked. “Louis CK? Alec Baldwin? What if it had been you, Emma Stone? Or you, Scarlett Johansson? You knew me when I was a little girl, Diane Keaton. Have you forgotten me?” (Aside: note the prescient irony of the Louis CK call-out.) A few years later, spurred by the #MeToo movement, several actors—Greta Gerwig, Michael Caine, and Timothée Chalamet among them—began to publicly distance themselves from Allen, who continues to deny the accusations.
Yet Johansson has made it clear that she will not be heeding the same caution anytime soon. “I see Woody whenever I can, and I have had a lot of conversations with him about it,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “I have been very direct with him, and he’s very direct with me. He maintains his innocence, and I believe him.” No room for interpretation there. When ScarJo does something, she really commits, unless that thing is running a smooth, controversy-free Oscars campaign. Again, our prayers are with her publicist and Marriage Story costars.
With the Vanity Fair interview, she proves that her allegiance really does remain with Allen, and a little bit of rightful outrage from the entire internet (including from Farrow herself) is not enough for her to sacrifice what she describes as “integrity.” When asked generally about the backlash toward her past comments, about Allen or otherwise, she responds, “I’m not a politician, and I can’t lie about the way I feel about things. I don’t have that. It’s just not a part of my personality.” From there, it only gets worse. She later seems to suggest that it is actually brave of her to stand up for the guy who married his young stepdaughter.
“Even though there’s moments where I feel maybe more vulnerable because I’ve spoken my own opinion about something, my own truth and experience about it,” she says, “I think it’s dangerous to temper how you represent yourself, because you’re afraid of that kind of response. That, to me, doesn’t seem very progressive at all. That seems scary.”
Her interviewer, however, is unwilling to let her off the hook quite so easy, pointing out that her opinion on this particular subject is “uncomfortable” because she is essentially saying she does not believe a woman’s account of sexual assault. “Yeah. I do understand how that is triggering for some people,” Johansson replies, with the writer noting her long pause before answering. “But just because I believe my friend does not mean that I don’t support women, believe women. I think you have to take it on a case-by-case basis. You can’t have this blanket statement—I don’t believe that.”
Finally, she’s had enough. “I think if I wanted to continue this conversation, it can be done personally with the people involved and not through statements to Vanity Fair,” she says.
Somewhere in Los Angeles, an exhausted public-relations employee can be heard letting out a sigh of relief.