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The Big O: What’s at Stake for Cate in the Woody Debate?

The Big O: What's at Stake for Cate in the Woody Debate?

[Editor’s Note: The opinions in this piece belong solely to the author, a columnist hired to assess the Oscar race from the female perspective. Women and Hollywood also published a piece earlier this week entitled “I Believe Dylan Farrow.”]

I don’t know about you, but Woody Allen’s past is suddenly a hotter topic on my Twitter and Facebook feeds than the latest wintry blast in the East or the Olympics.

Unlike author Stephen King, whose comments sparked a social-media backlash, I am standing clear of the volatile debate that has flared up in the past couple of weeks over the two-decades-old allegation of sexual abuse against Woody Allen by the daughter he adopted with onetime partner Mia Farrow. No charges were filed after law officials conducted an investigation in 1992. Should it be up to the public or the press to act as a makeshift jury in what is essentially a she said-he said discussion?

Not that it isn’t a serious matter. But I believe it is also a private matter, as well as a deeply sensitive one. Personally, I feel out of place playing a judge in this drama, no matter what accusations have been made by the now-adult Dylan in The New York Times or what counter-arguments have been offered by the 78-year-old filmmaker’s publicist and lawyer.   

What does concern me — given that the “O” in “The Big O” stands for “Oscar” — is that Allen’s much-praised latest opus, Blue Jasmine, is a player in the current Academy Awards race with three chances at a trophy. As has been noted in the coverage this week, the timing suggests that this matter has been resurrected to undercut the film’s chances right before voting begins on Valentine’s Day.

Not that there is much room for damage. Sally Hawkins, though terrific in a supporting role, isn’t considered one of the favorites to win, and it’s doubtful that Allen’s nomination for original screenplay — which extends his record of nods in that category to 16 — will triumph, given that Her and American Hustle are considered the prime contenders

Any hopes for Blue Jasmine on Oscar night, then, rest squarely on the shapely shoulders of Cate Blanchett, the indomitable cat-eyed wonder from Down Under who has been collecting nearly every major honor that she is eligible for so far. Her bracing portrait of a fallen New York socialite who depends on the kindness of strangers — along with vodka, pills and her own self-deluded wiles — to overcome her tragic state is considered by many to be the defining female lead performance of 2013.

Among the critical standing ovations for her efforts when the film opened last July: “neurotically golden” (Variety), “a thing of beauty” (New York Daily News), “frighteningly vivid” (Christian Science Monitor).

Since then, the versatile 44-year-old actress has held steady as the one to beat in her category. As often happens with Oscar, it just seems to be Blanchett’s moment to finally claim a leading actress crown. After breaking out as a fiery young British queen in 1998’s Elizabeth, she has been nominated five more times and won a supporting Academy Award for achieving the daunting task of bringing to life Katharine Hepburn, one of the most acclaimed and distinctive actresses of all time, in 2004’s The Aviator.  

Falling somewhere in between the regal frost of fellow Australian Nicole Kidman and the androgynous eccentricity of England’s Tilda Swinton (who else but Blanchett could play both an ethereal elfin ruler in the Lord of the Rings saga and an irascible Bob Dylan in 2007’s I’m Not There), Blanchett has distinguished herself as a star who draws attention to her work, not her personal life. The only scandal this eco-activist and mother of three is known for is the one in the title of 2007’s Notes on a Scandal.

That is, up until last weekend. In the open letter that ran in the New York Times, Dylan Farrow implied that the actors who work with Allen are somehow guilty by their association with him. One comment implicates the Blue Jasmine star: “What if it had been your child, Cate Blanchett?”

As it turns out, Blanchett was already in the spotlight on Saturday as the recipient of an Outstanding Performer of the Year award at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Inevitably, a reporter asked her about the sexual abuse allegations in the Times piece. She could have simply said, “No comment.” But instead, she replied, “It’s obviously been a long and painful situation for the family and I hope they find some sort of resolution and peace.”

Instead of lying low this week, Blanchett has shown up on the red carpet to promote The Monuments Men, the World War II movie directed by and starring George Clooney that opens Friday. And she braved the paparazzi in Manhattan’s West Village to deliver gifts to the children of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, her co-star in 1999’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, who died from an apparent heroin overdose on Sunday. For facing a potential public relations nightmare head on and going about her life, I say bravo.   

Not that the Academy members were ever likely to withhold their votes for Blanchett anyway, especially since a goodly portion of the acting branch have probably either appeared in or wanted to appear in a Woody Allen movie.

Consider how the Academy has reacted to nominated actresses who have been even more deeply embroiled in controversies in the past.

No one was more of a pariah in the public eye than Elizabeth Taylor when, after her impresario husband Mike Todd died in a plane crash in 1958, she “stole” Eddie Fisher, Todd’s best friend, from America’s sweetheart Debbie Reynolds and married him a year later.

And instead of being shunned by those in the film industry, the actress was nominated for three Oscars in a row for her efforts in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), Suddenly Last Summer (1959), and BUtterfield 8 (1960). Reynolds confirms she forgave her former friend enough to cast her vote for Taylor in BUtterfield 8, which led to her first win.

Taylor would then dump Fisher when she took up with her Cleopatra castmate Richard Burton — who was also married at the time — in 1963. Their behavior was condemned by no less than the Vatican. Three years later, when they both starred in 1966’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, she won her second Oscar.

A few years later, an outspoken Jane Fonda was vilified over her stance against the Vietnam War, yet won for 1970’s Klute. Vanessa Redgrave was in hot water when she declared her support of the PLO in 1977. She would go on to collect a supporting Oscar for Julia, which came out that same year.

Here is the thing. After acknowledging Allen’s output numerous times since the allegations were originally made — the Best Director winner for 1977’s Annie Hall received his third script Oscar for 2012’s Midnight in Paris — the Academy appears to operate on the principle that the work comes first and any moral or ethical issues are secondary. That was the case when Roman Polanski, who pled guilty to having sex with a minor and fled to France before he was sentenced in 1978, won a directing Oscar for 2002’s The Pianist

Besides, most of the membership lives in and around Hollywood, a city that is right up there with Washington, D.C., as the scandal capital of the world. It takes a lot more than that to rattle their cages apparently.

Basically, it comes down to this. If Blanchett loses on March 2, it will only be because the voters adore American Hustle and think Amy Adams — who is seen as the only potential spoiler in the category and has been nominated four times previously without a win — is more deserving.

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