It Doesn’t Matter if You’re an Oscar Winner

An open letter to the arts community: We need to play an active role in ending rape culture.

As a woman who has built her career on supporting young people, especially girls, I am ashamed that I hesitated for a moment to speak out against the selection of Woody Allen’s latest film, Café Society, to make its North American premiere as the Opening Night Film of our much beloved Seattle International Film Festival.

I guess I didn’t want to offend the people I consider friends and colleagues at our hometown film festival. But then I realized that this very type of rationalizing is what helps fuel rape culture in America. As the Executive Director of Reel Grrls, a feminist organization that supports young people as they explore, critique and create media through a feminist lens, it was incumbent upon me to speak out and use my voice to model the type of behavior our programs teach our students.

I also happen to be the co-founder (and current Board co-chair) of Skate Like a Girl, an organization dedicated to creating safe spaces in skateboarding, a traditionally male-dominated sport, where young women develop leadership skills. I firmly believe that our youth can only thrive and be healthy when they are safe and their well-being is valued.

I love SIFF. I love that this year 27% of SIFF films feature the work of women directors and producers, four times the industry standard for representation of women filmmakers. SIFF works hard to bring amazing films and educational opportunities to Seattle year-round. However, with the recent #OscarsSoWhite backlash and the well-documented lack of diversity in both mainstream and independent film, their decision to showcase the work of Woody Allen, as opposed to, say, Andrea Arnold (American Honey), Maren Ade (Tony Erdman), or Nate Parker (Birth of a Nation), is both tone deaf and out-of-touch with the current zeitgeist. Let’s remember that we as a society — and as an arts community — hold the power to decide who gets celebrated. It’s time to give less known artists the opportunity to have their talent recognized, particularly over men who have been accused of child sexual abuse.

By honoring the work of a filmmaker who stands accused of sexually assaulting his then seven-year-old daughter, we become a passive participant in a rape culture. A culture that all too often turns a blind eye to the transgressions of the rich and powerful, while punishing, shaming and, ultimately, silencing the very people seeking justice.

What does it say about our society, our city, and ourselves when we sit back and apply a relativistic moral algebra to rationalize our continued support of entertainers, athletes, CEOs, and others in positions of power and influence? What does it mean when the entertainment industry continues to favor dollars over morals when it comes to the questionable actions of its most celebrated members? What does it mean when Seattleites, who would divest in tertiary businesses that contribute to greenhouse gases in a heartbeat, line up to support a man is claimed to have caused irreparable harm to a child?

As hundreds of Seattleites walk the red carpet this Thursday, let’s stop and ask ourselves why we are fine separating the art from the artist when that association becomes uncomfortable for us, yet fail to consider the lifetime of shame that same artist’s daughter says he imposed on her.

The time has come to stop making excuses for sexual predators simply because they make “great art,” and to start supporting the victims who have been regularly and systematically silenced. We all have a role to play to create a new culture that supports survivors.

– Nancy Chang, Executive Director of Reel Grrls

Join Reel Grrls and the Northwest Film Forum for a Twitter chat about this issue using the tag #WhoAreWeCelebrating on May 19th at 4pm PST


5 Replies to "It Doesn't Matter if You're an Oscar Winner"

  • Ruth Archambault, a fan of Reel Grrls
    May 19, 2016 (7:28 pm)

    What a beautiful, well-thought-out letter, Nancy Chang. I applaud you and thank you.

  • SIFF, Amazon Studios, and Corporate Controversy | The-Solute
    May 20, 2016 (3:00 pm)

    […] patrons should consume media with a conscience. Today, Reel Grrls’ Executive Director wrote an open letter about the insensitivity of choosing Woody Allen as the opening piece, tying it in to the diversity […]

  • Leigh Hofheimer
    May 20, 2016 (8:28 pm)

    Thank you for speaking up! Thank you for all the fabulous work you make happen that benefit women and girls.

  • Brandon
    May 20, 2016 (11:41 pm)

    Agreed. It’s definitely not offensive and it’s acyually appreciated you highlight this. Cheers.

  • Antz
    May 27, 2016 (3:50 am)

    Your article assumes guilt. There has not been a case brought before a court of law and therefore the determination of guilt or innocence has not been made. Perhaps for all concerned then perhaps it should have gone to trial.
    However, your presumption of guilt is not based on any personal knowledge that you have. Therefore, you only know what you have read of a he says she says debate in the media.
    What is the truth here? I don’t know and neither do you.

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