My dad came to visit me in early October, about two months into my semester abroad in Madrid—it was rocky, to put it mildly. I experienced a kind of reversion to that pubescent feeling of irritation that only over-caring parents can inspire. Everywhere we went I found fault with my dad’s actions and words. I finally reached my boiling point one day when he grabbed my hand to prevent me from crossing into oncoming traffic—an objectively reasonable thing for any kind person to do.
Exploding into a tearful rage, I snapped: “I know how to cross a fucking street! I literally live on a different continent. Do you think I need you to tell me when and where to walk?”
I had lost control. There I was, standing in the middle of Madrid, dripping in tears of frustration, screaming at a man who had flown half-way around the world just to see me.
In my experience, study abroad can reduce you to this. The mix of culture shock and language barrier, combined with the ebb and flow of homesickness, adds up to moments of pure irrationality. This was undoubtedly one of my more spectacular ones.
“I’m sorry,” I said to my dumbfounded father. “I’ve been dealing with a lot this week. How about we just go to a movie and don’t talk for a while?”
Probably out of fear for his own safety and his own daughter’s sanity, he agreed. I picked the first film that came up on my phone, which happened to be “Un día de lluvia en Nueva York”—in English, “A Rainy Day in New York.” Not knowing anything about it, I booked two tickets and led my father through Madrid’s bustling central plaza, Sol (which I have often described as a smaller Times Square, if Times Square were to be inexplicably filled with street artists dressed as Salvador Dalí and giant teddy bears that hit on you in Spanish as you walk by), past the row of churrerías, and into the theater.
When we sat down in the plushy seats over our much-needed popcorn, I was thrilled. The film stars Selena Gomez and Timothée Chalamet, which meant I was in for two and a half hours of watching my childhood icon and young celebrity crush gallivant through the hometown I was desperately missing—and all in my favorite type of weather. But when the credits opened, and my stomach sank. My dad whispered what I already knew: “That’s Allen’s font.”
Sure enough, “Woody Allen” flashed across the scene, in the infamous director’s signature typeset. I’d unwittingly put money in the pocket of a man accused of sexual assault and child molestation. Shit.
It’s a funny thing when adulthood sheds new light on a staple of your childhood. I’m a New York City Jew, which means Woody Allen is the type of famous person that’s famous for making fun of my (and his) demographic. I grew up watching Allen’s most iconic moments: attempting to play a cello in a marching band in Take the Money and Run; living in a house right below the Coney Island roller coaster in Annie Hall. In my house, he was a hero—one of the funniest people alive.
In his own house, though, he was something very different.
Allen’s alleged victim is his adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow. Farrow first described the sexual assaults on record in 1992, when she was only seven years old. Since then, she has publicly recounted her experiences several times. Allen has always denied the allegations. In 2014, Farrow published an open letter in The New York Times which stated, “After a custody hearing denied my father visitation rights, my mother declined to pursue criminal charges … Woody Allen is a living testament to the way our society fails the survivors of sexual assault and abuse.”
History backs up Farrow’s unsettling claims. Following her accusations, Allen went on to write, direct, or act in no less than 45 films, the vast majority of which grossed over eight figures, with several reaching nine. He wrote a book, plays, and a television miniseries. He received the Golden Globe lifetime achievement award and was nominated for nine Academy Awards (he won one). His post-1992 career was no less successful, diverse, or lucrative than it had been in years prior.
In 2017, however, the landscape for sex offenders in Hollywood changed dramatically. On Oct. 5, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey released their Harvey Weinstein spotlight piece, the article commonly credited with the eruption of the #MeToo movement. Five days after the Kantor-Twohey story broke, The New Yorker published a piece by none other than Dylan Farrow’s brother, Ronan Farrow, who accused Weinstein of having assaulted 13 women and raped three. This family connection is not a coincidence. After 25 years of silence, and partly thanks to her brother’s work, Dylan Farrow finally had Hollywood listening.
Actress Mia Sorvino, who won an Oscar for her starring role in Allen’s 1995 Mighty Aphrodite, wrote an open letter to Farrow in which she expressed her regret about working with the director, and for having subsequently sung his praises. Actress Ellen Page, who starred in Allen’s To Rome with Love in 2012, posted on Facebook, “I did a Woody Allen movie and it is the biggest regret of my career.” This willingness to critically re-examine one’s own career and professional decisions highlights one of the most magical aspects of #MeToo: its capability to give old accusations the attention they have always deserved.
The movement also challenges industry insiders to acknowledge such accusations in tangible ways. Undoubtedly the clearest example of Hollywood’s newfound condemnation of Allen has been the industry’s reaction to A Rainy Day in New York—the very movie I now found myself watching. Sitting in the theater, cringing at myself for having purchased the tickets at all, I didn’t yet know that three of the movie’s stars—Rebecca Hall, Griffin Newman and Timothée Chalamet—had already announced that they’d be donating their earnings from the film to pro-#MeToo charities such as TIME’S UP and RAINN. In an even more stunning gesture, Amazon canceled the film’s U.S. release and terminated a four-movie contract with Allen. The director proceeded to file a $68 million lawsuit against the tech giant, claiming, “I’ve done everything that the #MeToo movement would love to achieve with everybody.” The movie remains unreleased in the United States.
It did, however, screen all across Europe, highlighting the distinction between the U.S. and many other culturally comparable nations. While the American conversation surrounding sexual assault has shifted into new, long-awaited terrain, many nations remain stuck in a pre-#MeToo era. Living in Spain for four months, I’ve been witness to the ways in which the country has progressed in this respect, as well as just how far it has to go.
I am, of course, an outside observer bringing my own biases and worldview to this analysis. As a study abroad student, however, I often found myself half-way between worlds: I am not and will never be Spanish (obviously), but I wasn’t quite a tourist, either. I stay with a host family and lived life with them; I directly enrolled in university classes with Spanish students. Through these experiences I learned a tremendous amount about Spain and Spanish culture, and simultaneously about myself and my Americanized ways of thinking. It became abundantly clear to me that I am infected with the American exceptionalist belief that I am always right about pretty much everything. I implore you, then, to read the following analysis through that lens.
#Cuéntalo (“Tell it”) is Spain’s #MeToo equivalent. The movement began in 2018 and uses Twitter as a platform to encourage women to share their stories. It emerged in the wake of a gang rape case in which five men attacked a woman during the annual Pamplona San Fermín festival. The men were originally found guilty of sexual abuse, an offense which earned then nine years in prison, but the case was appealed, and Spain’s Supreme Court found the group guilty of rape and raised the sentence to 15 years. Following the initial sentencing, the country exploded into protest, taking to the streets and the web to tell their stories in a public display of solidarity. Even Spain’s ultra-right political party, Vox, released a statement in support of the Supreme Court’s latter decision. The incident made it clear: on paper, at least, Spain is united in its desire to protect victims of violent rape.
But this conversation changes when it comes to more ambiguous examples of sexual assault and abuse. Last month, Vox neglected to sign a declaration that condemns violence against women, a move that seems to imply that Vox’s willingness to protect women only extends so far as perhaps its most extreme form: gang rape. This alone inherently encapsulates a masculinized stance on what forms of violence warrant action; gang rape is indisputably an act of physical and sexual violence, and Vox’s refusal to condemn other, more nuanced forms showcases a lack of acknowledgement of victims’ narratives and points of view. Following the general election in November, Vox more than doubled its number of parliamentary seats, making it the third-most powerful party in Spain. Clearly, this stance on gender-based violence resonates with voters throughout the nation.
Ambivalence surrounding #MeToo is visible in day-to-day interactions as well. A friend of mine broached the topic with her host family, only to be told by her host mother that she distrusted the actresses who had told their stories through the movement. She wondered why they had only bothered to come forward after they became famous, instead of speaking up when the assaults actually took place. When my friend tried to explain those same power dynamics that allowed the assaults to occur had rendered the women voiceless, her host mom shook her head, unimpressed by the explanation and firm in her disbelief.
My host mother, on the other hand, identifies herself as a feminist. Most families that participate in hosting programs tend to be comprised of older women or couples––empty-nester types. Mine was the exact opposite. My host mom is a 40-year-old single mother with three kids, a full-time job, and a serious girlfriend. She reads poetry and does yoga, and for my birthday she bought me a beautiful edition of selected writings by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, translated in Spanish. She buys her three young daughters (six, eight and ten years old respectively) books about rebellious women who changed the world, and reads these stories to them every night. She starts with belief when women when they tell their stories. To me, she is a living symbol of the changing landscape in the country.
Watching A Rainy Day in New York, however, I found myself reluctantly transported, wrapped up in the narrative and forgetting my feminist Allen resistence (I have a very uncultured love of every single movie I see, no matter how objectively bad it may be). Then the scene changed, and I was shocked back to reality. Onscreen, Elle Fanning’s character (a young woman studying at a prestigious, private liberal arts college in upstate New York––sound familiar?) found her way to a celebrity-packed New York City party, where she is preyed on by older, powerful, successful actors. She is wined and dined and hit on and lied to until, impressed by the glamour of the NYC elite, she finds herself at one such actor’s apartment, half-naked while he remains fully clothed, making out on the balcony until his girlfriend unexpectedly knocks on the door. The sequence is supposed to be comical, with Fanning’s eyes perpetually mirroring those of a frightened doe, with the camera cutting in such a way that implies her youthful drunkenness. Classy, Woody Allen. Good choice.
Sitting in a dark theater thousands of miles away from the city Selena Gomez was traipsing across onscreen, the city I grew up in and know better than anywhere else, it occurred to me just how much Spain and Europe idealize and idolize America. Our music, books, TV shows, and movies are ubiquitous across the continent. Our cultural responsibility, then, extends past our own coasts. What we create here, for better or worse, is consumed by the majority of the planet. It is on us––both the consumers and the creatives––to send the right messages. It is on us to support the marginalized and to believe the victims. By refusing to release A Rainy Day in New York in New York, Amazon (despite all its ethical flaws and greediness) took a step in the right direction. Down the line, perhaps Europe will follow suit. In the meantime, take comfort in picturing my host mom reading my goodbye present to her: Mala femenista, by Roxanne Gay.