Trigger warning: This post, excerpted from a Change.org petition, contains information about sexual assault that may be upsetting to survivors.
In response to Dylan Farrow's claims that she was sexually molested as a child by her adoptive father, Oscar-nominated writer/director Woody Allen, an Academy spokeswoman recently wrote, "The Academy honors achievement in film, not the personal lives of filmmakers and artists."
The overarching problem with the Academy's response is that it draws a very firm line in the sand, one that frees the Hollywood establishment from the responsibility we all share for the plight of abuse, rape and assault survivors everywhere. And even though Woody Allen has never been charged with or convicted of the sexual abuse alleged by Dylan, the Academy's statement tells us that even if Allen had done everything Dylan says he did, it would not matter to them, because it's his personal life.
The Academy's response also raises the question that survivors of sexual abuse have been asking for a long time now: What exactly does it take for Hollywood, which prides itself on tolerance and compassion, to actually care about someone who has been assaulted?
The reason this question is asked is perhaps best exemplified at the extreme by the case of director Roman Polanski, where Hollywood all but cemented a culture that turns a blind eye to victims of abuse. In 1977 Roman Polanski pleaded guilty to engaging in unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl, and later, facing the threat of imprisonment, he chose to flee the U.S. But when the Swiss arrested him in 2009 (on his way to receive an award honoring his filmmaking, no less), more than 130 "heavyweights" in Hollywood -- including Woody Allen -- ran not to the survivor's defense but to Polanksi's.
And in 2002, when the Academy awarded Polanski an Oscar for directing The Pianist, Hollywood gave him a standing ovation and successfully swept his rape of a 13-year-old girl under the red carpet. Or so it appeared to victims of abuse around the world.
Put simply: It is our unwavering belief that when Hollywood honors an artist's achievement in film, it is also and unequivocally honoring that artist as an individual. And while we are all for celebrating and recognizing good art, we think it is far more important to take a stand against sexual violence. It is time that Hollywood agree not to elevate artists who have brought immeasurable pain and suffering to others above the plight of their victims. We believe that the Academy has a real responsibility to distinguish between those artists who might just be tortured and those who are torturing others.
Therefore we are now calling on the Academy to use its powerful bully pulpit at the 86th annual Academy Awards on March 2 to stand up for survivors and make a firm commitment to the public that artists convicted of sexual abuse will no longer be honored by the Academy.
We believe in the democratic principle of innocence until guilt is proven. That is why we are asking that Hollywood treat convictions of sexually based crimes with the reprehension they deserve. But we also recognize that there are some real systemic imperfections, and that the odds of justice are overwhelmingly stacked against those who accuse others of sexual abuse -- especially when the accused is of fame, power, or acclaim, and especially when the accusation is made by a child. And so we ask the members of the Academy to recognize and denounce its complicity in making it harder for survivors of abuse to come forward, particularly when the abuser is one of their own.
Let's send the message to Hollywood that the benefit to society of art is never outweighed by the cost to society of inflicting harm upon others.
Learn more at the Change.org petition.