It was around the time of last year’s Golden Globes when Dylan Farrow (daughter of Mia Farrow) went and stirred up some public stink around film icon Woody Allen. Dylan alleged then and to this day that when she was eight, Woody Allen molested her. A heinous charge which some took seriously. Others not so much. There is, after all, no actual proof of a crime. Just a young woman’s horrible memories and her words versus one of the most famous and lauded filmmakers in the entire universe.

I recall taking to Twitter and posting something that essentially stated that it had been years since I’d patronized a Woody Allen film, or for that matter, anything produced or directed by Roman Polanski. It was a strangely confessional tweet and I hadn’t planned for it to garner more than a few reactions from some like-minded followers. And on that point I was right. But there were a few others that surprised me. And one in particular that stuck with me.

“What am I supposed to do?” asked the angry follower (though you should know I’m paraphrasing here). “Check for criminal records as it pertains to my Netflix queue?”

“No,” I replied honestly. “This is about where I draw the line. Where you draw the line is up to you.”

Once again, I’m paraphrasing here instead of scrolling through my seven thousand plus tweets. But you get the point. And so I reckon did that angry follower whose nerve I’d obviously plunked like sour piano string. But since that testy exchange, I’ve been reevaluating my red lines. Not so much my decisions. But where else I paint moral barriers. And how my lines in the sand differ from the others I encounter in daily business.

Let me be more specific. There are those who’ve done me wrong in showbiz. Stolen from me. Betrayed my trust. And I no longer work with them or they with me. Yet others do work with the aforementioned bad apples. Others whom, in fact, are quite up to speed on my negative experiences. They understand and are fully aware of the injuries I’ve suffered due to some of these bastards of the biz. Yet some continue to work with these known SOBs. Their rationale is simple and rather universally human.

For example, I must have heard something like this a hundred times:

“Yeah, I know he’s screwed a lot of people over. But in my personal experience with (fill in the blank with the evil doer), he’s always been really nice. So I don’t have a problem with him.”

We’ve all been there. We all know this rotten guy or gal. Tolerated his or her lousy behavior toward others just as long as we weren’t the victim. From grade school bullies to adulthood bullies. We find it a bit too easy to turn a blind eye.

But what is it really?

Breaking down the action, the aforementioned sounds like some kind of excuse given for some serial wife abusers. But by doing and saying nothing do we imply that we tacitly approve? As if to say the victim deserved whatever punishment they’d received.

Here’s a moment I often return to in my mind. It’s a scene not unlike that hidden camera show on ABC called What Would You Do? It was at a major movie studio. Mr. Big Name producer, his numero uno development stud, and myself were only minutes from a meeting with the studio boss of production. Each of us had found a comfy chair in the outer office in a secretarial space shared by a pair of male assistants, each flanking one side their boss’s door. About the time our meeting was set to commence, we were startled to hear the studio head barking from behind his closed door. The words were muffled and hard to make out. But it sure as hell sounded as if someone in the boss man’s sphere was getting a rather deserved ass-hauling.

The trio of us waiting for our appointment shared looks and maybe a nervous smile. Meanwhile, we heard another bark from beyond that seemed to fire an electric charge under both of his youngish assistants. In the blink of an eye, both launched into a sort of hyper drive, shuffling paper, scanning their computer screens, and dialing telephones numbers.

“Dunno what that’s about,” whispered Mr. Big Name. “But looks like somebody around here’s in deep shit.”

That’s when he appeared. The studio boss flung open his own door, stood tall in the doorframe, and assailed both assistants with a blue streak of angry invectives followed by marching orders followed by more ugly language.

“You stupid fucks!” he screamed more than once. “You’re about as useless as two piles of dog shit.”

Somewhere within the curses and accusations, new instructions were served, turning the maligned assistants into fumbling stacks of dysfunctional gelatin.

And then, as quickly as he appeared, that same office door slammed shut with the studio boss disappearing behind it.

“Whoah,” whispered Mr. Big Name. “That was… uncomfortable.”

“Understatement,” I hushed back.

“He looked right at me,” said Mr. Big Name. “Not like he didn’t know we were sitting right here.”

“His reputation precedes him,” I added.

It was supposed to be a reminder to my compatriots and myself that the movie chief to whom we were about to make our presentation had a reputation for abusing underlings. Translation to those who wanted to be in business with the boss man: He’s a tough, take-no-prisoners kind of manager, to be respected and remember all the trimmings that come with that.

But now we were witnesses to the exact kind of cruel abuse that had earned the studio president his lousy rep. Not just that, but over the next fifteen minutes, we witnessed more yelling and belittling of the young, suited men who’d been stationed in support of their boss. We watched the duo scramble to please, attempting anything within their meager power to undo some obvious company screw-up.

“Think we should go?” asked Mr. Big Name.

“Would be my preference,” I underscored.

“Just get up and walk out before the meeting?”

“You wanna pitch to that?” I said of the studio president, as if my only good reason for bolting was because the odds of my closing a deal had been diminished instead of being offended at the obvious offense.

“Sorry you had to wait,” said the studio boss, who’d somehow shape-shifted from fanged Tasmanian devil into a bespectacled image of shaman-like tranquility. He shook our hands, politely ushered us into his official sanctuary where we went about our business as if nothing had happened. He never once apologized for subjecting us to his tirades nor made a single relatable reference.

So shame on him.

Then again shame on me for not walking out when I should have. His behavior was reprehensible and, by our not making some sort of protest by voting with our feet and walking out, I believe we tacitly rubber-stamped his cruel act.

Instead I said and did nothing.

Now, some might argue that we don’t have the responsibility to be judge and jury over those who’ve earned a dubious reputation—that without personal experience or knowledge, it isn’t our right or duty to make value judgments on or about someone’s character. I would strongly argue otherwise. The proof of my case is that we do it all day every day in our humdrum lives. We show our preferred biases in our most basic choices: the cars we drive, the products we buy, the charities we support, the websites we surf.

Hell. If you the reader are so turned off and disagree with the point of view of this particular blog, I would respect you exercising your vote by never visiting here again, let alone swiping a credit card to see one of my movies or buy one or more of my highly-rated novels.

Back to Woody Allen. For some years I’ve read numerous accounts of Mr. Allen’s behavior having to do with his and Mia Farrow’s common-law “children.” I won’t litigate the merits of the accusations here. And if you’re looking for pro or con arguments on the case, the web has plenty of legit and otherwise opinions for you to explore.

What I am willing to say is that I’m satisfied with my choice not to patronize his illicit behavior with my entertainment dollars. The same goes for supporting the work of the great Roman Polanski. The actual complaint and sworn statement of his thirteen-year-old rape victim is available online. It’s hard to read. But so compelling I’ve become quite sanguine with my position.

And finally, I don’t equate either filmmaker’s alleged illicit behavior with the aforementioned studio boss’s lousy bossing. I do, though, use all of the above to in the constant recalibration of my own moral compass.

My choices. My lines in the sand. So what are yours?

Doug Richardson
Doug Richardson
Author and screenwriter. Books: THE LUCKY DEY THRILLERS: BLOOD MONEY, 99 PERCENT KILL, AND REAPER, THE SAFETY EXPERT, AND THE SMOKING GUN. Movies: HOSTAGE, BAD BOYS, DIE HARD 2.
  • Aaron C

    I wish I could always vote with my feet for things like this. However, we have families to support. I don’t know to what extent that informs your decision-making when it comes to certain situations. Obviously, some lines are more easily drawn. I can easily refuse bribes, and can generally conduct myself with integrity. But when it comes to situations like you describe, I wish it wasn’t the case, but sometimes I can only be as ethical as my financial stability and personal power in the situation allows, you know? Do you think that might have had something to do with it or was this later in your career?

    • Doug Richardson

      Like I said, Aaron. We all have to draw lines somewhere. And my opinions have shifted with age. Much of where I am now has to do with regret for some of my more dubious choices. I guess the question is, based on your financial bottom line, what is your moral bottom line?

      • BlackDogClan

        We have all made bad choices when it comes to money and it’s hard to know how far up the ladder we go to draw that line. With a single creator, the buck stops there, but with a corporation… there’s a good chance it will be rotten at the top…

      • Aaron C

        As you suggest, I believe it’s a moving target. I wish it was not the case, but it is, and I suspect that’s true for most of us.

  • Marci Liroff

    Well done Doug. I too believe in maintaining ones integrity and moral compass. I sleep well at night because of it.

  • John Thomas

    Ah, Doug, you do have a way of striking a nerve when you least intend it. (That’s a good thing, by the way).

    I definitely agree we need to vote with our feet and wallets, and discourage bad behavior by not participating with it, and when possible speaking out against it directly. Not objecting to bad behavior serves to approve it – that’s just the way it works.

    But I also urge some caution. Because I spent many years dealing with the fall out of a good friend being publicly attacked in the media with what I know was false information (some of it literally planted by the media organization that published the attack). And seeing how many people without any personal knowledge of the situation accepted that false information as fact (and still do), I have deep, deep, deep distrust of any public vilification of someone that isn’t backed by real evidence. And by evidence, I mean evidence that passes the validation of a court of law; anything else is subject to all sorts of manipulations.

    Keep in mind that the purpose of our media is to give us stories, not to give us truth. I see very little difference between main stream news sources and Hollywood films – both can be “based on true events” or “inspired by true events”, but rarely are actually “true.” Trial by media unfortunately happens far more often nowadays than trial by a jury of peers or anything approximating it.

    I can’t read a single word of any accusation in the press without having doubts about it, because I’ve seen it abused too many times. But I’m an equal opportunity doubter – I also doubt the statements of “shock” and “disgust” by the accused. The bottom line is, without direct personal experience, I can’t know. And so without direct personal experience, I refuse to judge.

    So I urge you (and everyone) to be very careful about making a judgement about anyone if you don’t have personal experience to back it up. In the case of the studio head, you have the experience; in the case of Woody Allen, you might not. In the case of Roman Polansky, judgment has already been made by those who know more about the case than us.

    It sucks, because we hear these awful things and we don’t want to associate with that – I understand that, and I feel it. But before you judge, think about what would happen if someone accused you of the same thing. You would know it wasn’t true, but how many people you know would give you a chance to explain yourself? (Hint: it’s definitely not all of them). And how many people you don’t know would accept the accusation and shun you, regardless of your denials and regardless of the fact that there was no actual evidence? (Hint: it’s most of them). We have a responsibility on both sides of the issue.

    • Doug Richardson

      Agreed, John. At least mostly. And great food for thought. I’ve had plenty of my own experiences with utterly false media reports. So I’m not suggesting that we grab our pitchforks and torches at the sniff of impropriety. Case in point. And maybe my fave. Richard Jewel. The issue of Woody Allen, as I said, requires investigating. And I’ve sleuthed enough to satisfy MY threshold of caution. And Roman Polanski? There are many in the arts who feel his getting a thirteen year old drunk and sodomizing her is just old news or best forgotten. He has never paid for his crime.

    • BlackDogClan

      Great art can be made by monsters (and monstresses).

      Of course I will not patronize anything I get an unsatisfactory feeling from be it from the creation or creator.

      Everything is part of the package now and the persona of the creator is more important than ever. But it is hard to trust everything the media, hard news as well as entertainment, reports.

      Luckily there is so much clutter out there we can be choosy about what we entertain ourselves with.

  • Herschel Horton

    Doug,
    When you live and work in an environment filled with egomaniacs I’m sure you have so many personal experiences that test your moral compass.

    We all have regrets with how we’ve reacted to other’s abusive behaviors in the past. I fought no man for how and when they stand up to the abuse.
    For me, I take solace in that if I can eventually take these bad experiences and turn them into something positive that enables me to help make a positive difference in people’s lives, then the discomfort is a well learned lesson.
    Thanks for being out there and discussing the subject matter. As they say in the many X step programs, “discussing it is the start of changing it…”

    • Doug Richardson

      Thanks Herschel. And cheers.

  • Scot Boyd

    Here is how I came to be aware of this conundrum:

    I loved NewsRadio. Still do. I think it is one of the best sitcoms ever made, with an incredibly talented cast. Phil Hartman’s passing is real tragedy and the fact that Andy Dick is culpable makes me hesitate to view anything he’s involved in.

    But I can’t stop watching and supporting NewsRadio. Partially because it’s not fair to the rest of the cast and crew, but also because I don’t want to give Andy Dick the power to take away my love for something. I don’t want him to have any power over me.

    I’ve never been much of a fan of Woody Allen or Roman Polanski, so I haven’t had to make any hard choices where they are concerned. There’s an extent to which art should be separate from the artist, but that easy division is definitely blurred when money is involved. It should be perfectly acceptable withhold your money from a person you think doesn’t deserve it.

  • clive

    I read lolita as a thirteen year old and thought wow, if i read this when i’m forty and it has the same effect i’ll be a pervert. I don’t know how you deal with that. Maybe it’s a book that should have been banned.
    What i’m saying is we are all human.

  • jch

    One of my favorite films is Allen’s Oscar winning screenplay for Midnight in Paris. For me, he’d be easier to hate as a monster, if he was a crappy writer. And then I think, yeah, but at one time Penn State’s Jerry Sandusky was probably a pretty good football coach, too.
    How does one separate the art from the artist? It’s a very personal thing, where does one draw the line – rumor, accusation, indictment, conviction? Where there’s smoke there’s fire? Great questions, Doug.

  • Phyllis K Twombly

    This makes me feel better about my experience today with a rude customer service employee. He grunted that exchanges were done at the front till. When I asked him where to find the item I needed (thereby giving him a second chance) he grunted and pointed in the general direction. That’s when I decided to mention his rudeness to the clerk at the front. She said he was actually a nice old fellow once you got to know him. (Hey, if you’re rude to me when we meet I’ll accept it at face value and never get to know you.)

    I told her it had made me wonder if it was because I was a woman–it was a hardware store. She said he’d be in trouble if that was the case because most of the employees were female. About an hour later I realized I was still deeply offended–and that’s bad for any business.

    So when you don’t know the facts about an offense it’s probably best to look at both sides and then go with your instincts. When a friend is dealing with someone you distrust or dislike it’s their choice. Maybe they’ll see your point of view or perhaps the person shows them another facet of personality. Freedom of association is a wonderful thing.