A decision by Royal Holloway’s Film Society to screen a string of controversial films has caused a major dispute. The controversy began on November 2 when the society put up a post on their Facebook page, encouraging its members to vote in a poll for which Woody Allen film they wanted to watch at their next screening. In the post, Allen is referred to ‘as a contemporary director who changed the history of cinema with his unique humour and style.’
This prompted several students to comment on the post criticising the Film society’s choice of director, with others suggesting the language used was inappropriate. Allen has been accused by his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow of molesting her when she was seven years old, although the claims were never legally proven. In lieu of the sexual assault scandals surrounding other key Hollywood figures, many found the society’s decision insensitive.
When speaking to Molly Stapleton, a third-year film student who was first to comment on the post, she said it was the third week in a row that it had been a film from a controversial figure. She went on to say: ‘It seems like that’s not an accident. Then it was the wording I disagreed with as well. You’re not separating him from his art, you’re saying he is a genius and praising him and I don’t think that’s appropriate – especially with the climate at the moment.’
Miss Stapleton also found the response of the Film society to her comments unsatisfactory. After suggesting a list of alternative directors to Allen, said list was accused of being racist by the official society Facebook account as it did not include a black or Jewish individual. She argues, ‘It goes against SU safe space policy. You have to conduct yourself properly, if you get complaints you have to take them seriously.’
When interviewed, Film Society president, Jack Salvadori, stated: ‘It is our policy that members decide [on what is screened] – we believe in democracy. For three years now, the members choose the movie and we screen the movie that they choose. The members were asking for a Woody Allen movie, which is something we screen yearly.’
Mr Salvadori said that he was surprised at the backlash that the society received, being the third year the society had decided to screen a Woody Allen film, but the first time that people have complained: ‘Considering what is going on in Hollywood, it’s really not about Woody Allen, so it’s not related to this – I wasn’t thinking there would be any backlash.
‘If you are not a member, and if you are not coming to the screening, why do you care if other people want to watch something? Don’t watch it if you don’t want to. Nobody’s forcing you to watch it,’ Mr Salvadori continued.
When asked about whether the Society could have replied to the comments better, Mr Salvadori said ‘I’m not sorry but I regret saying, with the society account, that a comment was racist. If I could do it now, if I knew how, I would do it with my account. I didn’t claim that a person was racist, which might be a problem. I claimed that a comment was racist’
In response to the criticism, the Film Society put up another post on their Facebook page on November 9, stating that the committee members would abstain from choosing the movie to watch that week, leaving it entirely for the members who came to select. According to Mr Salvadori, ‘We did it and there was not a single person from the [Facebook] comments who came… All the people who came wanted to see Woody Allen. We did screen Woody Allen, with success.’
We reached out to the Student Union for a statement, but did not receive a reply.