A prominent mural on the corner Liberty St. and State St. has acted as a central hallmark for downtown Ann Arbor since 1984. The mural — commonly referred to as the Bookstore Mural — depicts portraits of five well-known writers: Franz Kafka, Hermann Hesse, Edgar Allen Poe, Anaïs Nin and Woody Allen.
A new HBO docuseries, Allen v. Farrow, revisits the sexual abuse allegations against Allen made by Dylan Farrow, Allen’s adopted daughter, in 1992 when she was 7 years old. Farrow is now 35 years old.
Allen is known for his career as a screenwriter, actor, author and American film director, but allegations against Allen have followed him for decades. After the #MeToo movement began gaining momentum in 2017, the allegations became debilitating. Many actors and filmmakers alike have now denounced Allen and have refused to work with him.
With Allen’s sexual assault allegations resurfacing, Ann Arbor residents are engaging in a renewed debate over replacing Allen in the mural downtown. A discussion in the Ann Arbor Townies! Facebook group garnered attention from residents, raising questions of the mural’s feasibility and ethics. A majority of the residents wanted the mural taken down.
The debate with Allen’s mural isn’t the only one of its kind. Especially after the Black Lives Matter protests, numerous monuments and campus buildings across America that have come under scrutiny due to its memorialization of white supremeicists.
Ann Arbor resident Mikki Moscara said she would like to see the painting of Woody Allen either taken down or repainted with a new writer.
“I think Woody Allen should be replaced or removed (from the mural) mainly because of the situation that transpired,” Moscara said. “Having that (mural) up in Ann Arbor, is it really good for the reputation of Ann Arbor?”
Allen has consistently denied the allegations and has never been tried or convicted for the sexual abuse accusations. Citing these reasons, two Ann Arbor residents who wish to remain anonymous due to fears of personal and professional retribution have told The Michigan Daily they believe the painting should be kept in place. They will be referred to as Julia and Philip for the remainder of the story.
Julia called discussion around the depiction of Allen in the mural “old news.”
“I don’t understand the resurgence of this culture where if someone is accused of a crime, they are deemed immediately guilty,” Julia said. “Who gives you the right to destroy something because you have a misguided idea of what happened, and you don’t even have the facts?”
Ypsilanti resident Andrea Krueger, a semi-retired social worker and yoga instructor, agreed, saying she believes the mural’s original purpose was only to acknowledge Allen’s work as an artist.
“At the time the mural was commissioned, it wasn’t known about his proclivities,” Krueger said. “And the spirit was not even to highlight his personal life at all; it was merely to acknowledge him as a renowned filmmaker.”
Others like Philip, who has requested anonymity, said some of the other writers on the mural have also had their share of scandal. Edgar Allen Poe married his 13-year-old cousin when he was 27. Anaïs Nin had two husbands — one in New York and the other in Los Angeles — who each did not know the other husband existed. Franz Kafka allegedly had contradictory views on sex, who was described by a friend as being ““tortured by his sexual desires.”
“None of the people on that painting are innocent,” Philip said. “The one person in that whole group we couldn’t say had some weird sexual tendencies is Hermann Hesse.”
Allen is the only one of the five accused of sexual assault.
Philip said they would like to keep the mural as a point of discussion about the past.
“It’s been there since 1984,” Philip said. “If we start censoring the past, we’ll never learn from it.”
Similarly, Krueger said she believes keeping Allen on the mural can prompt critical thinking about his controversial past.
“It provokes questioning, and I think that’s a very good thing,” Krueger said. “By whitewashing out Woody Allen, there’s nothing to think about, is there?”
In contrast, Moscara said she believes Allen should be replaced to reflect Ann Arbor’s progressive culture.
“In regards to honoring the past, … things change, and it’s okay to change,” Moscara said. “He doesn’t have to be there, I feel like it’s not as important for him to be there as it is more so to change and be a little bit more progressive.”
Moscara suggested a few people she thinks could replace Allen.
“I think having someone from Ann Arbor would be really great,” Moscara said. “Some people suggested Iggy Pop. Robert Frost lived in Ann Arbor for a little while.”
LSA sophomore MacKenzee Van Buren said she believes adding writers of color or female writers would be a welcome addition to the mural, which currently showcases four white men.
“I think there are more influential, deserving writers out there that can be put on the mural instead of Woody Allen,” Buren said. “I think removing Allen opens the potential for making a more representative mural.”
Moscara also said she believes adding different writers from diverse backgrounds would better represent Ann Arbor’s diverse culture.
“I think that in itself would be more progressive, and that would show Ann Arbor’s true face, or what makes Ann Arbor great,” Moscara said.
Daily Staff Reporter Cynthia Huang can be reached at email@example.com.