When the iconic red Netflix notification appeared on my phone – New Arrival: To Rome With Love – my memory faltered. I quickly googled the film’s director to confirm that yes, Netflix had just added a film created by a reported pedophile the same week that another male celebrity was, among many other men in Hollywood, accused of sexual assault.
On October 29, Buzzfeed first published allegations by actor Anthony Rapp accusing Kevin Spacey of sexual assault in 1986. In response, Netflix swiftly suspended production of House of Cards with the actor. Three days later, they added the 2012 film To Rome With Love, written and directed by Woody Allen.
Since sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein by many women were published earlier this Fall in the New York Times, Hollywood has reacted quickly against many of those now accused. Weinstein was voted out of the Academy; Louis CK’s film I Love You Daddy was pulled from its November release date; Kevin Spacey was recast in the upcoming film All the Money in the World. Yet Woody Allen has just added a movie to Netflix and is now shooting a new film with A-list stars including Selena Gomez, Elle Fanning, Jesse Eisenberg, and Jude Law.
Why is action being more directly taken against today’s outed perpetrators while one outed two decades ago enjoys an increasingly successful career?
First, the details of the accusations made against Allen in 1993 differ from those of many of the accusations we now see sweeping Hollywood and the media. They were very much contained within the family, which is part of the reason why Allen has continued to work successfully in the film industry. Many stars, when asked why they continue to work with him, either avoid the question or claim they do not feel it is their place to get involved in such a personal matter. Yet Dylan Farrow herself, in an open letter in the New York Times, has directly urged these stars to get involved, calling them out for continuing to sign on to projects with Allen. Many celebrities also avoided confronting the accusations against Woody Allen because they claimed to be upholding the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty,’ yet this leniency has not been extended to many of those recently accused in Hollywood.
So, we’re left with timing as a reasonable explanation for why Allen has yet to be centered in the current discussion of sexual assault. The expansive scope of recent accusations creates a sort of momentum currently. There could be a sense of pressure from Hollywood and determination from survivors coming forward to stamp out predatory behavior. It’s also been a couple decades since the Allen accusations, and the initial shock and disgust may have waned for many in the industry.
Even so, passing time doesn’t change sexual assault.
Netflix’s addition of a Woody Allen film is our warning against neglect for survivors and toleration for perpetrators. It is our reminder of how often society silences victims and so willingly turns a blind eye to sexual assault. It confronts us with a question for the future – when the rapid and forceful accusations in Hollywood and beyond begin to wane, will we repeat our course following the allegations against Woody Allen? Or will we set a new precedent in which sexual assault is understood as a systemic social issue that deserves attention and swift reaction at all times, not just during scandals involving public figures.