The new Woody Allen problem: Will sex allegations dent the director's Oscar chances?

Were Cate Blanchett not to get the Oscar for Best Actress, it would signal that Allen has been given pariah status

It was in the aftermath of the Golden Globes that Ronan Farrow was moved to tweet about his father: “Missed the Woody Allen tribute – did they put the part where a woman publicly confirmed he molested her at age seven before or after Annie Hall?”

The tweet referred to the allegations first made by Ronan’s mother, Mia Farrow. In 1992, during her acrimonious split with boyfriend Allen, Farrow alleged that the director had sexually abused their adopted daughter Dylan. Allen denied the allegations. At the time Dylan was seven years old. After a police investigation, a judge decided that the case should not proceed to trial.

Allen denies the allegations. That they have resurfaced more than two decades later reveals the increasing power of social media in affecting public opinion. The renewal of the allegation also appears timed to undermine the current wave of critical appreciation of Allen.

In addition to the lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes, his latest film, Blue Jasmine, about a neurotic woman coming to terms with her divorce, has been nominated for three Baftas and three Oscars: Leading lady Cate Blanchett is up for Best Actress, Brit Sally Hawkins has Supporting Actor nominations and Allen has been nominated for Best Original Screenplay.

The tweet on the night of the Golden Globes was followed up at this past weekend by an open letter penned by Dylan Farrow in The New York Times, which started: “What’s your favourite Woody Allen movie? Before you answer, you should know, 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.”

She added that her suffering was even more difficult whenever the director was being lauded for his work: “Actors praised him at awards shows. Networks put him on TV. Critics put him in magazines. Each time I saw my abuser’s face – on a poster, on a T-shirt, on television – I could only hide my panic until I found a place to be alone and fall apart. Last week, Woody Allen was nominated for his latest Oscar. But this time, I refuse to fall apart. For so long, Woody Allen’s acceptance silenced me. It felt like a personal rebuke, like the awards and accolades were to tell me to shut up and go away.”

So will the American Academy shun the director at the forthcoming Oscars? One thing is for sure, even without these allegations, Allen would not have been in attendance. He avoids award ceremonies. He didn’t attend the Golden Globe Awards to pick up the lifetime achievement award, sending his former muse and ex-girlfriend Diane Keaton to do the honours, nor did he attend the Oscar ceremony in 2011 when he won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Midnight in Paris.

Given that Allen was always a long shot to win the Best Screenwriting Oscar for Blue Jasmine, a failure to score another Oscar win would not be seen as any sort of indictment by the Academy.

But were Cate Blanchett (who is hot favourite to win the Best Actress Award) not to get the Oscar, it would signal that Allen has been given pariah status.

Yet director Rod Lurie, an Academy Member since 2009, believes that even if voters believed the allegations were true they would not hold it against the actress. He says, “I can’t imagine that my peers in the Academy would hold it against Cate Blanchett – if they feel she gave the year’s top performance, even if they felt the allegations against the director were accurate.”

Since 1992, when the allegations first surfaced, the American Academy and Bafta have seemingly been unaffected by the accusations. Indeed they have lauded the actor/director with numerous accolades.

Just after his custody battle, when Allen helmed one of his finest films, Bullets Over Broadway, he received Oscar nominations for Best Director and for Best Original Screenplay. He was nominated in 1996 for Mighty Aphrodite, with Mira Sorvino winning the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as a prostitute whose son, whom she gave up for adoption, turns out to be a child genius.

In 1997 Allen was awarded the Bafta Fellowship, a lifetime achievement award made “in recognition of outstanding achievement in the art forms of the moving image”. Yet, this week, no one at Bafta was willing to go on record about how they felt their members would respond to the latest allegations against the director. Voting closes on February 12th before the February 16th ceremony. It’s one thing for a spurned girlfriend to go public, quite another for the daughter and alleged victim to do so.

The current public mood seems to be to sit on the fence. But recent Oscar history suggests that, unless criminal action is taken against Allen, the Academy will continue to back him The real test of the public mood will come when Allen’s next film, Magic in the Moonlight, comes out in the summer.

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