I’m going to apologize in advance, because I don’t think I can get this quite right, not in tone or tenor. This not a critique of #metoo or an attempt to ascertain the verity of Dylan Farrow’s contention that she was abused by her father, Woody Allen, in the summer of 1992. I have neither the qualification nor inclination to provide either. Still, I’ve been troubled ever since Farrow insinuated herself in the ranks of #metoo in order to rekindle public outcry over the accusation, which Allen has steadfastly denied, that he fondled and penetrated her when she was seven years old. And now, in light of the Hachette imprint walk-out and refusal to publish Allen’s memoir, Apropos of Nothing, it seems a word or two might be in order.
As a social movement and legal phenomenon #metoo draws its impact from corroboration, transmitted largely through the use of social media.
He said; she said became he said; they said.
At the risk of sounding flippant in light of a tragically serious allegation, Dylan Farrow’s charge, in spite of her persistance and eloquence, is me without too.
It’s understandable that Farrow would seek to add her voice to the #metoo outcry, given that her brother, Ronan Farrow, helped to create the movement with his investigative reporting on Harvey Weinstein. But, does her allegation against Allen really belong in the same category as the multitude of clear, consistent accounts that put Weinstein and Cosby behind bars, or drew confessions from personalities as disparate as Charlie Rose and Louis C.K.? Ronan Farrow obviously believes it does: “This was a serial fixator on underage girls,” Farrow said during a 2018 Guardian interview.
Underage, yes. But not children.
Allen, as has been noted, has never been accused of transgressing with other children. In the same interview, Farrow suggested that any who doubt Allen’s guilt haven’t studied the voluminous investigative reporting, particularly stories by Maureen Orth and Andy Thibault. It’s true. Both have made points that seemed damning at the time, but have also since been refuted by Allen supporters.
As documentarian Robert Weide pointed out in a 2014 Daily Beast article: “[believing Dylan’s accusation] means that in the middle of custody and support negotiations, during which Woody needed to be on his best behavior, in a house belonging to his furious ex-girlfriend, and filled with people seething mad at him, Woody, who is a well-known claustrophobic, decided this would be the ideal time and place to take his daughter into an attic and molest her, quickly, before a house full of children and nannies noticed they were both missing.”
This is important, not to argue Allen’s innocence, but to demonstrate that people of good faith can have different opinions about the case. Whatever some might say, it’s entirely possible to support the women (and some men) who have denounced behaviors ranging from the boorish and unprofessional to the outright criminal while also contending that Allen doesn’t (yet) deserve to be made a pariah.
We’re entitled to our own opinions, but we’re not entitled to other peoples’.
Not surprisingly, Dylan Farrow positions herself as speaking truth to power. Yet both Dylan and Ronan Farrow seem genuinely perplexed that anyone of any stature could still stand by Allen.
Perhaps that is, in part, because Allen is no Harvey Weinstein. Throughout his career he has intentionally positioned himself as a domestic version of Stanley Kubrick, keeping as much distance between himself and the mainstream of the US film industry as possible while still maintaining a US passport. He avoids the Oscars and other US-based award ceremonies. When he finally did show up in LA on Oscar night — in 2002 to introduce a short film honoring New York City’s presence as a movie location — one might have expected the standing ovation to match Charlie Chaplin’s triumphant 1972 return to the US. When, actually, it was rather half-hearted, even by comparison to the one legendary director and controversial HUAC tattletale Elia Kazan received in 2008. Allen’s films are funded by a variety of sources, don’t cost much to make and usually earn very little, if any, profit. He might help to make a career (as he did with Mira Sorvino, whose Best Supporting Actress award for Allen’s Mighty Aphrodite was so unexpected that a silly legend arose in which presenter Jack Palance mis-read the teleprompter, gave her the award over four of the most venerable actresses in modern film, and everyone just went along with it — Sorvino recently joined the growing number who denounced Allen on behalf of Farrow), but it’s pretty much impossible to imagine him destroying one, as Weinstein could do during the height of his influence.
In fact, consider the growing number of actors and actresses who have denounced Allen, stated they would never work with him again and have even donated the salaries they earned when they did work with him, add that to the indifference his latest memoir evoked among publishers — leading to the now famous Hachette walkout — and wouldn’t you imagine the Farrows would be gratified just a bit? After all, if you’re speaking truth to power, and not only not crushed, but witness other powerful and influential people show that your statements have influenced them in your direction, maybe it’s time to ponder the possibility that either you are more powerful than you initially reckoned, or the target of your bane is less so.
One can argue either way. Dylan’s most visible ally, her younger brother Ronan Farrow, currently rides the crest of a monumentally successful career as a prodigy and investigative journalist, having not only helped to birth a vastly influential movement, but sharing a Pulitzer Prize with the New Yorker and, more recently still, having penned an outstanding non-fiction best-seller about the decline of American influence. As Andrew Anthony wrote in the conclusion of a 2018 interview: “…now is very definitely Ronan Farrow’s time.”
On the other side, Allen, 84, plainly has more films behind him than before him. Even were he somehow to initiate a new spurt of creative energy and find both the funding and distribution to back it up, rarely, at least in the past two decades, has he worked more than once or twice with the same stars. So when actors claim they will never work with him again, aren’t they just engaging in a bit of inexpensive virtue signaling? What are they really giving up?
Perhaps mainly the possibility of being called out on social media.
After Dylan Farrow started calling out Allen collaborators, past and present, by name, it was hard to shake the feeling that she was playing the bully just a bit. Whatever its origins, #metoo has become mainstream. Some might differ with its applications (as I do here), but few can deny that it’s a long overdue corrective to decades of abuse, mistreatment and outright criminal behavior. By associating her cause with #metoo, and linking Allen with Weinstein, Farrow is engaging in a bit of sleight-of-hand, aligning her charges, in lieu of any new evidence or information, with those made by hundreds of adult women. So, in addition to building Allen up as a Harvey-sized Hollywood Goliath, linking the two together also suggests Allen is just as unquestionably guilty.
To suggest otherwise is to spit in the eye of survivors the world over.
In an LA Times opinion piece, Farrow singled out Kate Winslett, who starred in Allen’s 2017 Wonder Wheel, for praising Allen and implying she would continue to stand by him. Farrow accused Winslett of being “selective” in which allegations she would believe. That’s right. There’s evidently something wrong in not just accepting the entire roster of guilty names, regardless of any particular, irrelevant facts. E.g. Cosby had more than 50 accusers and was convicted in court. Allen had one, and has not even been charged, much less convicted. Louis C.K. confessed. Allen has maintained his innocence. Etc…
Farrow must have been gratified when, a short while later, Winslett expressed “bitter regret” at having worked with “certain men of power” who had been accused of sexual misconduct. Without naming names, she let the press and public fill in the gaps. Whatever Winslett might believe personally, it was clearly her time to climb about the SS Sisterhood.
After having dodged questions about Allen during the 2018 Golden Globes, filmmaker Greta Gerwig, who had also been called out by name, changed her tune during a Q & A conducted by Aaron Sorkin. “I increased another woman’s pain,” she said, explaining why she would never work for Allen again. To her credit, Gerwig referenced new information: “Had I known then what I know now.” But that information appears to consist of repeated accusations by Dylan Farrow only, and not a systematic analysis of the back and forth of the case. It’s also possible to be a little cynical here and wonder whether what I know now is an appreciation of the damage spurning a #metoo sister might have on her still fledgling directorial career.
Ultimately, if we’re going to use the possibility of causing another woman pain as our principle criterion for choosing which side to support, what about Soon-Yi Previn? After more than two decades of apparently happy, successful marriage, these accusations, both against her husband and against her for having, evidently, married a pedophile, have got to hurt like hell.
On the topic of “new information”, I’ve got to agree with those who insist that the more you study the available evidence, the less likely you can be certain exactly what happened on that turgid August morning. If you do feel confident you know the answer, one way or the other, I humbly suggest you back up and read some more. Better still, don’t. Because the result will be little more than crossed eyes and a headache. E.g. Allen supporters cite the lack of corroborating accusations along with Allen’s two-decade marriage to Soon-Yi Previn. Farrow supporters counter: many sexual assaults against children are situational rather than preferential; lack of further offenses is meaningless. Farrow supporters insist Allen was in therapy prior to the assault for “inappropriate” attachment to Dylan; Allen’s people say this attachment was never deemed sexual, but rather he was too focused on Dylan — originally at Mia’s request — to the exclusion of simply spending time with the other kids.
And so on. I’ll spare you….
In any case, the facts don’t matter now. They haven’t for some time. That is what’s particularly troubling about this controversy. Once Farrow linked to #metoo, refusing her demand to denounce Allen became tantamount to denying what had been proven beyond all reasonable doubt, and could only interpreted as a call for a return to the casting couch. Anyone who cares about the future of women in Hollywood will kick Allen to the curb. As for the public at large, it’s illuminating to read the comments that follow articles on the subject. Allen supporters typically begin by describing his “creative genius” (as though that somehow made him immune from transgressive behavior), while critics nearly always start with some reference to his “seduction of” and marriage to Soon-Yi Previn, described variously as his “daughter”, “step-daughter”, “adoptive-daughter”, etc., before continuing on to suggest he be castrated and/or crucified. Many also reference disgust at the protagonist’s behavior in Manhattan, a film many regarded as Allen’s masterpiece when released in 1979, which, unbeknownst to most of us alive at the time, was also the close of an epoch that had championed “free love” and looked askance at ages of consent as restrictive and patriarchal.
You have to wonder, when all is said and done, if Dylan Farrow’s invocation of #metoo against Allen would be as effective had Allen not married Soon-Yi Previn. He came to prominence, after all, as the Meistersinger of the East Coast intelligentsia; his work encapsulated, at least superficially, their values and mores. Behind the gentle satire of their foibles, he also flattered them for creating the apotheosis of civilization. Once the news of his relationship with his ex-girlfriend’s daughter, exacerbated by his utterly trite, “the heart wants what it wants” rationale, burst on the scene, like a fart cutting into a performance of Hamlet’s soliloquy, Allen transformed overnight into the Upper East Side’s answer to Joey Buttafuoco. Not only transgressive, but utterly ridiculous.
People could forgive the former, in time. But the latter, never.
Still, the bare facts — he was never a father figure to Soon-Yi, and she was, by all accounts, an adult when the relationship began — didn’t permit his outright expulsion from civil society. Not then.
Dylan Farrow’s opening salvo in renewing the case against Allen, a 2014 open letter published by Nicholas Kristof in the NY Times, concludes with the plaintive question to Diane Keaton, one of Allen’s most vigorous supporters: “Have you forgotten me?”
I can’t speak for others. But one way to respond might be to ask, in turn, has Dylan forgotten that her allegations began barely half-a-year after the Woody-Soon-Yi relationship was revealed, to an obviously and understandably infuriated Mia Farrow? Given Dylan’s youth, of course Mia had to be the face of the accusation. The timing, from their point of view, couldn’t have been worse. Backlash against 80s “satanic panic” (ref. the McMartin Preschool molestation case), the “recovered memory movement” and the sense that charges of sexual abuse were sometims levied by vengeful spouses in acrimonious divorce and custody battles, had led to a renewed skepticism of sex abuse charges in general. People inclined to side with Mia Farrow over the Soon-Yi revelation, which was nearly everybody, reacted to the abuse charge: What he did was bad enough. Why gild the lily?
Ronan Farrow has repeatedly called Dylan’s account “credible”. He’s right. It is. Quite credible. Her description, as banal as it is odious, lacks the fantastic details — Ray Buckey flying through the air; the Duke Lacrosse team’s accuser, Crystal Magnum, laying for hours on a pile of shattered mirror glass without being sliced to ribbons herself — that sometimes characterize debunked claims. When a seven-year-old changes her story about an event previously well outside her experiential references, we shouldn’t hold it against her. And while the gaps in Mia’s recordings are unfortunate, she’s not a trained child abuse investigator. But credibility isn’t proof. When Dylan Farrow texted “…if we’ve learned anything from the past two years it’s that you definitely should believe male predators who ‘maintain their innocence’…” in response to Scarlett Johansson’s continued support of Allen, she begs the question of whether or not Allen really is a predator, implying that Johansson must know perfectly well that he is, but just doesn’t care enough. That Allen is a “male predator” is also significant because supporting him, even if you have legitimate doubts about his guilt, means you don’t care enough about women.
Then there’s the allusion to the “past two years”. Further alignment with #metoo, and the incontrovertible truth of its strength-in-numbers. Because otherwise, there hasn’t been any new information about the Farrow-Allen case in the past two years. No new allegations* have been reported. No new evidence uncovered.
I like Scarlett Johansson, and I like her even more for sticking by Allen, however unlikely it is that circumstances will permit her to work with him again. In that regard I’m reminded slightly of the way Marion Davies stuck by her friend and colleague, Fatty Arbuckle, after a jury acquitted him of manslaughter in the death of Virginia Rappe. The studios ostracized Fatty — who had been up to that point one of the highest-paid performers in film — perhaps in part because the trial created an image in the minds of the film-going public of a massive Fatty crashing down upon the petite Rappe like a horny, near-sighted hippopotamus trying to mate with a gazelle. The disparity between the two was, in terms of physical mass, a bit like the temporal disproportion between Woody and Soon-Yi.
Even if she’s wrong, I respect her sense of loyalty, and I hope it doesn’t damage her career the way Farrow intends.
For why else single her out at all?
I know this has come off as an argument for the defense. I suppose it couldn’t be helped. A presumption of innocence, which strictly speaking belongs only in the courtroom, nevertheless informs our thinking in a more general way. Perhaps Kristof sums it up best when he suggests that while Dylan’s word alone isn’t enough to put Allen in prison, it might be enough to stop honoring him.
My own opinion of Allen, for what it’s worth, is that he is and always has been massively overrated. I didn’t care that much for the late-seventies-early-eighties work that had critics and the Academy swooning, tails wagging and tongues lolling out like good doggies begging a treat. As a native Angeleno, I hated the way his disparagement of the West Coast resonated with some of Industry’s deeply felt masochistic instincts:
He says our most significant cultural contribution is turning right on a red?
Give him an Oscar!
He shuns LA on Oscar Night to play the clarinet?
Smart motherfucker. Give him four!
Gosh, he’s right. We really suck!!!
So, yeah. I don’t know. Most likely, never will.
But I’m pretty sure Dylan Farrow’s allegations don’t belong in #metoo, just as I’m pretty sure she’s no longer the underdog in this drama. And maybe, just maybe, that’s a bit of authentic progress right there.
- unless you regard elder brother Moses’s allegations of abusive and manipulative behavior on Mia Farrow’s part, and his insistence that the physical layout of their home at the time made Dylan’s account implausible as new information