Former model and “a platonic muse to Federico Fellini during the auteur’s later life”, Babi Christina Engelhardt, was only 16 when she started dating accused pedophile Woody Allen in 1976. Allen was 41 at the time, in 1976, and according to Engelhardt’s claims in an explosive expose in The Hollywood Reporter, the relationship lasted eight long years before coming to an end.
However, Engelhardt claims that her decision to come out with the story is not to malign the man. Allen has been mired in controversies surrounding a pattern of abuse for the most part of his career that has largely been unaffected by his indiscretions. Engelhardt claims that she simply intends to share with the world what she believes was a transformative love affair that shaped her life. She states that she is here to present a different perspective on the man accused by many. Yet, many have pointed out that the details on her equation with Allen is nothing but damning.
So why isn’t Hollywood rushing to boycott Allen even now? Why is there no outrage like there was in the case of Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey? Were they mere scapegoats to cover up a more symptomatic system of abuse that Hollywood is notoriously known for?
By her own admission, Engelhardt is the one who pursued Allen when she was 16. After catching Allen’s eye at the legendary Elaine’s restaurant in New York, Engelhardt dropped a note on his table with her phone number and the line, “Since you’ve signed enough autographs, here’s mine!” But, Allen allegedly never even asked her age, never batted an eyelid also perhaps before promptly inviting her over to his Fifth Avenue penthouse soon after. He did know that she was still in high school.
What ensued over the next eight years was a relationship with a terribly unequal power dynamic. Even though Engelhardt insists that she has no wish to “trash him” now, in the post #metoo era, she has, at least, been able to re-evaluate the “claustrophobic, controlling, and yet dreamy dimensions” of the equation she had with Allen. She now knows that she was a part of a pattern in Allen’s life where women – especially the young, impressionable and malleable ones – were ultimately there for his amusement and easily disposable.
The character of 17-year-old Tracy in Allen’s film Manhattan, played by Mariel Hemingway, who also later accused Allen of trying to seduce her when she was a teenager, was partially based on Engelhardt. A fact that she is now painfully aware of even though initially she suspected it was entirely based on her and her relationship with Allen. Actress Stacey Nelkin who also dated Allen when she was 17 had stated that Tracy was based on her. But, Engelhardt states in the same The Hollywood Reporter article that Tracy was an amalgamation of all of Allen’s underage paramours, “I was a fragment. Great artists cherry-pick.”
Hardly any of the stories of abuse put so much as a dent in Allen’s illustrious Hollywood career though.
When stories of Allen abusing his then-partner Mia Farrow’s underage daughter Dylan surfaced, it should’ve been enough to bury him. But, somehow the evidence wasn’t sufficient enough in the eyes of the law. Even more astounding was the kind of continued support he got from within Hollywood. Despite several debates over whether or not we should be separating art from the artist accused of abuse, Allen as well as his films continue being celebrated in elite circles.
It was only recently, after the #metoo reckoning, that Allen received any real backlash from the fraternity. The red carpet premiere of his film Wonder Wheel, starring Kate Winslet and Justin Timberlake, got cancelled in October 2017, right when the #metoo movement had arrived to knock the literal wind out of big Hollywood moguls. The film did have a theatrical release though and was panned by critics. His next theatrical release, which was being shot around this time, A Rainy Day In New York, however, doesn’t seem likely to be getting a release anytime soon. The film’s actors – Timothee Chalamet, Selena Gomez and Rebecca Hall – publicly apologised for doing the film and donated their entire salaries to organisations that deal with cases of sexual abuse and harassment.
However, much like Engelhardt, most Hollywood insiders refrain from attacking Allen the same way they’ve done with the likes of Weinstein. Cate Blanchett (who worked with Allen in Blue Jasmine) as well as Hall keep insisting that there’s no way to tell who is the actual victim in the situation. After Hall donated her salary from A Rainy Day In New York to Time’s Up, she felt the need to explained her actions in an interview. It simply indicates that most stars and industry insiders are more than willing to go with the tides when it comes to being politically correct and socially responsible, but not take a step further to actually rock boats no one else is rocking.
“I’ve been deliberate in saying that the choice wasn’t making a judgment one way or another. I don’t believe anyone in the public should be judge and jury on a case that is so complex. […] I wanted to do something that would publicly say, in this moment, that when a woman says something, or a man says something, I think it’s really crucial that the message is, ‘You will be listened to.’ That is as far as I can go. Beyond that, I don’t know. I’m not sure we will ever know,” she said.
The truth is we were not really shocked when Engelhardt’s account surfaced yesterday. It has become the part of the status quo almost, at this point. So, is anyone really surprised that Allen is still not cancelled?