Writer-director Woody Allen filed a $68 million lawsuit against Amazon Studios today. As reported by The Hollywood Reporter and Variety, Allen claims the company breached its contract with him when it declined to release four of his films.
“Seeking to capitalize on Mr. Allen’s international stature, talent, and track record, Amazon—a technology giant but Hollywood novice—sought to develop its nascent entertainment studio by entering into a series of deals with Mr. Allen and his company, Gravier, promising to finance and distribute his future films and to be his “home” for the rest of his career,” the suit reads in part. “In June 2018, however, Amazon backed out of the deals, purporting to terminate them without any legal basis for doing so, while knowing that its actions would cause substantial damage to Mr. Allen, Gravier, investors and the artists and crew involved in making the films.” Allen and his company were set to make between $68 and $73 million from the agreements with Amazon.
Allen blames the studio’s unwillingness to release his films on “a 25-year old, baseless allegation against Mr. Allen” — specifically, Allen’s adopted stepdaughter, Dylan Farrow, telling the world that he sexually assaulted her when she was a child. The suit claims that Farrow’s comments shouldn’t affect the Amazon deal, since the “allegation was already well known to Amazon (and the public) before Amazon entered into four separate deals with Mr. Allen—and, in any event it does not provide a basis for Amazon to terminate the contract.”
The #MeToo movement has brought a reckoning to Hollywood; allegations and abuse that were once taken as routine have been brought to the forefront, and concern about public appearances have begun to reshape the way the industry operates. That’s even obliquely referenced in Allen’s complaint. In December 2017, two Amazon Studios executives had a meeting with Allen and co., where they “discussed the negative publicity and reputational harm Amazon Studios had received because of allegations made against its former President, Mr. Price, and its association with Harvey Weinstein and The Weinstein Company.” (Roy Price, the former head of Amazon Studios and the man who’d made the deal with Allen and his company in the first place, was ousted from his job near the end of 2017 after allegations of sexual harassment surfaced.) In a later meeting, Allen and Amazon agreed to push back the release of Allen’s latest film, A Rainy Day in New York, until 2019, when the heat would have presumably died down.
That didn’t happen. According to The Hollywood Reporter, “six months later, after the completion of post-production work, the termination notice came that informed Allen that ‘Amazon does not intend to distribute or otherwise exploit the Pictures in any domestic or international territories.’” Amazon’s lawyers wrote that working with Allen had become impractical because of “supervening events” — talent wouldn’t associate with him, “renewed allegations” had risen against him, and the director’s own “controversial comments” were an issue. Allen’s complaint says that none of these comments constitute “the right to terminate the Allen Film Agreements,” and that they’re only a “vague statement” with no legal value.
While Allen may have a legal case for recompense, the ethical or moral case is murkier. The fact of the lawsuit, in a perverse way, means that the #MeToo movement is succeeding: Allen has become so toxic that Amazon Studios would rather take a potential hit of tens of millions of dollars than release his films.