A former model who claims to have dated Woody Allen when she was 16 has spoken about their relationship for the first time, in an exclusive interview with The Hollywood Reporter.
Babi Christina Engelhardt, who just goes by Christina Engelhardt now, met Allen in 1976, when she was 16 and he was 41. They met at Elaine’s, a popular New York restaurant, when she dropped a note on his table with her phone number. The note read, “Since you’ve signed enough autographs, here’s mine!”
Allen soon invited her to his penthouse, and this kicked off an eight-year long relationship that was consummated before Engelhardt had turned 17, which is the legal age of consent in New York. Allen knew she was still in high school and living at home in rural New Jersey.
According to the interview, Engelhardt is still trying to process the relationship, decades later, particularly in light of #MeToo. She’s proud of herself for enchanting a ‘celebrated genius’, and holds herself primarily responsible for remaining in the relationship as long as she did. Despite this, she feels she had little agency in their relationship, and feels that Allen often regarded her as “little more than a plaything”.
During their relationship, Allen released Manhattan, a film about a 42-year-old divorcee, played by Allen, who dates a 17-year-old, played by Mariel Hemingway. The film is often referenced in criticisms of Allen as an example of his inappropriate relationships with young girls.
Engelhardt’s interview has reignited the debate around ‘separating the art from the artist’, a debate that people have been having about Woody Allen for years. In the case of his relationship with Engelhardt and 1979’s Manhattan, it seems that the artist himself has made no attempt to separate himself from the art.
Allen’s movies are often semi-autobiographical – he often plays a character that is like him in almost every way, requiring very little in the way of acting on his part. If an artist has repeatedly demonstrated that their art is an extension of their self, is it even possible to separate the art from the artist, and divorce the art from the context in which it was created? Possibility aside, is it even ethical to do so?
Much like the way we teach students of history to consider the actions of historical figures within their historical contexts, I’d argue that art should also always be considered in the context it was created in.
‘Separating the art from the artist’ has enabled men like Allen to dodge accusations of impropriety for years and emerge relatively unscathed, while their movies continue to be hailed as classics. If the #MeToo movement is serious about tackling harassment and misogyny in Hollywood, we need to stop letting art exist in a vacuum, and instead look at the people who’ve created it and what messages they might be sending us through their work.