Separating the artist’s work from his or her self: When should we ignore a body of work because of the actions of the person who made it?
By: Claire Briggs
Recently, there has been a great deal of controversy surrounding the premier of Nate Parker’s new critically-acclaimed film the Birth of a Nation, which depicts the story of Nat Turner’s slave rebellion in 1831.
The controversy is due to the revival of interest in a rape case at Penn State University in 1999, in which Parker and his co-worker Jean Celestin were accused of raping a woman. As well as this, the woman who accused them of rape committed suicide in 2012. Because of this controversy, many of the questions asked at the press conferences for the film have been about this rape case, rather than the film.
This is in sharp contrast with the premier of Woody Allen’s new film, Café Society. Allen’s daughter Dylan Farrow has accused her father of molesting her when she was a child, and it should be noted that during Allen’s marriage to Mia Farrow, he had an affair with his step daughter, Soon-Yi Previn (then 21 years old) with whom he is now married. However, at the press conference for Café Society, no questions were asked about the allegations of abuse against Allen, though his own son, Rowan Farrow, had released a piece in the Hollywood Reporter that same day critiquing media outlets for not questioning his father and investigating Dylan Farrow’s claims of molestation.
Although these two scenarios involve different allegations and details, it’s important to note that Parker has been held significantly more accountable for his alleged actions than Allen, who was honored just two years ago at the Golden Globes with a lifetime achievement award. So why is it that people are so much quicker to take one artist off his pedestal than another? Many people believe that this is because society is far more eager (and likely) to believe that a black man could be guilty of such a crime than they could a white man. This is not to say that Parker should be treated more leniently, but rather that Allen should questioned as thoroughly as as Parker was.