Another day, another Woody Allen casting notice: Selena Gomez, Elle Fanning, and Timothée Chalamet (star of the upcoming Oscar hopeful Call Me by Your Name) are boarding Allen’s untitled third film for Amazon Studios, following previous collaborations Café Society and the upcoming Wonder Wheel.
As is to be expected with a new Allen film, conversations crept up about whether or not actors should continue to work with a man who has been accused by ex-partner Mia Farrow of sexually assaulting their young adopted daughter. It’s a question that will always arise when Hollywood stars like Gomez, Fanning, and Chalamet follow in the footsteps of Justin Timberlake, Kate Winslet, Blake Lively, Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Emma Stone, Cate Blanchett, and others who’ve chosen to work with Allen in recent years. The fairness of the question is hardly worth examining at this point, but what is worth interrogating is who has the privilege to continue working with an accused molester and who does not.
When BuzzFeed broke the story that R. Kelly is alleged to be holding numerous women hostage in a cult, there was plenty of condemnation for the mother of one of the victims. One woman, referred to only as J., acknowledged that she was aware of the allegations against Kelly and the fact that he married R&B singer Aaliyah when she was only 15. But she also thought she could protect her daughter: “In the back of our minds, we were thinking [my daughter] could be around him if I was with her. It didn’t really hit home. Even with the Aaliyah situation, now that I think about it, ‘Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number’... but you don’t think about that. You grew up with the song, and you like the song.”
Granted, why should J. have any reason to fear Kelly when musicians like Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Jennifer Hudson, and Chance the Rapper have worked with him in recent years? What she didn’t realize is that predators often prey on the weak—on those without advocates. A young black girl whose parents thrust her into Kelly’s arms so he can “help her career” isn’t going to have the same protections that Hollywood’s most famous artists have when working with Kelly. It’s no different than Dr. Luke having the ability to allegedly prey on Ke$ha while she studied under his wing, all while he continued to work with Jennifer Lopez, Pusha T, or Pitbull. Dr. Luke’s relationships with those established artists aren’t the same as his with a younger protégée.
The fact remains that Allen is still a celebrated artist. His films appear at major festivals and are showered with awards, so if you’re an actor who wants those accolades, you’ll jump at the chance to work for him. You will even find an easy way to explain your reason for doing so.
The Hollywood Reporter rounded up a few of the more dubious excuses, such as Alec Baldwin scolding a Twitter user with: “So you know who’s guilty? Who’s lying? You, personally, know that? You are mistaken if you think there is a place for me, or any outsider, in this family’s issue.” Kristen Stewart’s response was: “We don’t know any of these people involved. If we were persecuted for the amount of shit that’s been said about us that’s not true, our lives would be over.” These answers are ludicrous, but whatever. Get your coins. It’s your right and your privilege, because you are a protected Hollywood actor and not a child living in Allen’s house. You’re not on the crew of a Casey Affleck film. You’re not alone with Roman Polanski. And thank God you’re not a black woman in Chicago, because no one would really give a fuck about you and they’d let R. Kelly prey on you, your community, and the young girls in your city for years without doing a damn thing while letting him perform at awards shows.
In 2010, Alyssa Rosenberg wrote about this privilege for The Atlantic: “Actors and actresses don’t keep working with Polanski because they believe art is a higher imperative or because there’s some kind of kinship between artistic spirits. Rather, I think famous actors and actresses can justify working with Polanski because they’re privileged enough not to see him, and people like him, as a threat.” Actors get the benefit of the doubt all the time for working with Allen, but women like J., whose daughter was preyed upon by R. Kelly, are told it’s her fault. Because those high-wattage stars have public-relations machines that can bat away questions about why they’ve chosen to work with Allen and sashay down a red carpet to promote his film.
Also, because they’re white. Gabrielle Union and Aja Naomi King were interrogated more about working with Nate Parker on The Birth of Nation than anyone will ever question Fanning or Gomez. In fact, if you so much as tweet surprise about Gomez working with Allen, hordes of fans will descend on you and ask, “What about the other actors who got away with it?”
That is ultimately why actors will keep working with Allen, and why I’m tired of asking the question. Because Blanchett won the Academy Award for Best Actress after starring in his movie Blue Jasmine, and continues unabated. That’s the real answer.
If her, why not them?