Blake Lively Seriously Cannot Be Defending Woody Allen

I had a hard time believing that making feminism and female empowerment popular could have a downside. How could making feminism more accessible and getting more people on board with gender equality ever result in anything bad?

Blake Lively’s recent comments at the Cannes Film Festival were the cringe-worthy yet necessary wake up call I needed.

During a screening of Woody Allen’s new film Café Society, Lively defended Allen against a comedian who joked about how Allen was able to create great films yet escape conviction of sexual assault in the U.S. "It's amazing what Woody has written for women. It's very dangerous to factor in things you don't know anything about," Lively said, adding that she hasn't read any of the stories about Allen. "I could [only] know my experience. And my experience with Woody is he's empowering to women."

Blake Lively isn’t the only female celebrity defending Allen. Actresses who publicly advocate for female empowerment, such as Cate Blanchett and Kristen Stewart, have also praised him and chosen to turn a blind eye to the allegations of abuse.

Look—I, too, fangirl when I see empowering roles for women on the big screen. I do appreciate when directors understand how important it is to portray women fairly, and use their power and privilege to do so. And the more I see it, the merrier. I’ve only seen one or two Woody Allen films in my life, so I can’t give a qualified analysis of his contributions to women in the media, and for all I know, maybe he has created some great female characters in his distinguished directorial career.

However, creating a couple of decent roles for Hollywood actresses does make a director “empowering for women,” especially when said director has a track record for inappropriate behavior with women.

Multiple accounts reveal that Woody Allen had a penchant for inappropriately touching his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow when she was younger, even before her sexual assault allegations. Ronan Farrow, in his powerful op-ed for The Hollywood Reporter, noted how Allen had a past history of disturbing behavior with his sister Dylan, describing how Allen would look at Dylan in a sexual way and ask her to suck his (Allen’s) thumb. And Mia Farrow reportedly wouldn’t leave Allen alone with Dylan. Actress Mariel Hemingway recounted in her autobiography how, while shooting the film Manhattan alongside Woody Allen, he attempted to seduce her by ensuring she did not have her own hotel room, when she was only seventeen years old. And at this point, do we really need to rehash his disturbing relationship with his now-wife Soon Yi Previn? Even if we refuse to believe Dylan Farrow’s allegations against Woody Allen, it's difficult to deny that Allen has a complete disregard for women and their boundaries, and has repeatedly engaged in highly inappropriate behaviors with younger women.

Ignoring women who have come forward with stories of sexual assault and trauma in favor of powerful men is by definition the opposite of empowering. No amount of well-written female characters and Academy Awards can erase that. While I don’t think Lively believes that powerful people should be able to get away with sexual assault, by defending Woody Allen and refusing to take a closer look at his allegations, she tacitly places Allen’s power over the well-being of survivors.

If Lively’s definition of empowerment requires that we ignore allegations of sexual assault in order to obtain decent representations of women in the media, I want no part of it. This is not empowerment, but rather a crappy half-assed trade-off—one that favors privileged female actresses over rape survivors. This is cheap, meaningless corporate empowerment at its finest, and it has no place in the fight for equality and social justice.

I urge Lively and other celebrities to look at Ronan Farrow's insightful column in The Hollywood Reporter. In it, Farrow urges journalists and other influential people in the media to use their power to create a culture where survivors can tell their stories, where powerful people will not be able to shrug off their misdeeds with their privilege. Farrow notes: “We are witnessing a sea change in how we talk about sexual assault and abuse. But there is more work to do to build a culture where women like my sister are no longer treated as if they are invisible. It's time to ask some hard questions.” His column serves as a powerful critique to the media, as well as to celebrities who are comfortable with ignoring Woody Allen’s misdeeds. We need to take heed of his advice and be unafraid to call out wrongdoing, even when it comes from people we like.

While there’s no way to avoid working with problematic people, we can take definitive steps to dismantle rape culture. By prioritizing survivors, listening to their stories and using our social privilege to take a firm stance against sexual assault, we can create a better culture for survivors. I hope powerful Hollywood celebrities like Blake Lively take note of that. 

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