In Woody Allen’s new memoir, Apropos of Nothing, the director addresses one of the loudest critiques of his work: His movies rarely — if ever — include black characters. Sure, his movies haven’t featured prominent roles for black actors, he writes in the 400-page tome, but he’s publicly been an ally, he says: Allen recalls marching with Martin Luther King Jr., donating to the ACLU, and that he “said publicly in the 1960s that [he] was in favor of African-Americans achieving their goals by any means necessary.” Allen previously addressed the fundamental whiteness of his movies in a 2014 interview with the New York Observer: “The implication is that I’m deliberately not hiring black actors, which is stupid,” he said at the time. “I cast only what’s right for the part. Race, friendship means nothing to me except who is right for the part.” Here’s the full passage from his new book:
I’ve taken some criticism over the years that I didn’t use African-Americans in my movies. And while affirmative action can be a fine solution in many instances, it does not work when it comes to casting. I always cast the person who fits the part most believably in my mind’s eye. When it comes to the politics of race, I have always been a typical liberal and sometimes maybe even radical. I marched in Washington with Martin Luther King, donated heavily to the ACLU when they needed extra to push the Voting Rights Act, named my children after my African-American heroes and said publicly in the 1960s that I was in favor of African-Americans achieving their goals by any means necessary. Anyhow, when it comes to casting, I do not go by politics but by what feels dramatically correct to me.
Apropos of Nothing also tracks Allen’s lifelong appreciation for black music and black art: As a child, he says, he “was a wannabe comic, wannabe magician, wannabe baseball player, and wannabe African-American jazz musician.” (He particularly admired the “primitive” New Orleans jazz musicians Bunk Johnson, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, and Sidney Bechet.) As for naming his children after his “African-American heroes,” Allen says investigative journalist Ronan Farrow was originally named Satchel. Allen says the name came from his admiration for Satchel Paige.