Watching the four episodes that comprise the documentary ALLEN V. FARROW is a wrenching experience, offering a searing indictment not only of Allen, but also the society, media and investigative agencies that allowed him to evade punishment for possible crimes. Allen and his enablers understood the cultural landscape that existed at that time and that they played a part in creating. In the summer of 1992, Devi and I were recent college graduates from a progressive, feminist-minded college. How could I have given such little consideration to the possibility that perhaps Dylan was telling the truth? One would hope for a greater degree of sophistication from recent college graduates, but we are all products of a culture that for far too long dismissed allegations of sexual abuse, choosing to believe that the victim was either lying or had asked for it. Assessing the evidence that is methodically presented in ALLEN V. FARROW begs this question: why did so many of us assume he was not guilty?
It now seems implausible and naive, but at the time “the heart wants what the heart wants” seemed a perfectly valid defense for an artist that many of us regarded as a brilliant filmmaker. And more than merely being another great filmmaker, we felt a connection and affection for this neurotic, but seemingly charming waif-of-a-man. Several weeks before the story broke, I saw Woody Allen perform on the clarinet at Michael’s Pub. I was living a hand-to-mouth existence and spent my last dollar to pay for the drinks and dinner and whatever the price of admission at that time. I couldn’t care less that I had jeopardized my rent budget, so thrilled was I to see my cultural icon hero perform in person. When the scandal was splashed across the front page of every newspaper in the country, I convinced myself that those making the allegations were vengeful and unhinged. It never occurred to me to question the integrity and veracity of Allen, and to consider the possibility that maybe a man who had displayed predatory behavior towards a young woman with whom he shared a familial relationship would cross an even more horrible line.
What explains this willingness to now believe Dylan is, in fact, telling the truth? ALLEN v. FARROW makes the viewer aware of compelling evidence of which many of us were ignorant and not widely reported at that time. Institutions charged with investigating the allegation seemed disinclined to believe the account of a little girl over that of a grown man. The Yale-New Haven Hospital’s Child Sexual Abuse Clinic interviewed her nine times over a three-month period. The documentary features interviews with former prosecutors who state that this is an excessive amount of questioning that could possibly confuse a young victim now finding herself forced to retell (and relive) the traumatic account over and over. The clinic later destroyed their notes from the interviews, a move that was both improper and illegal as the notes constituted evidence. The New York City Child Welfare Administration also conducted an investigation, the integrity of which is highly suspect given that the social worker assigned to the examine the allegation was removed from the case when he concluded that Dylan was credible.
And then, of course, there is the once forgotten victim at the heart of this case. It’s easy to forget that this case isn’t entirely about Woody Allen and his dramatic breakup with Mia Farrow and grossly inappropriate relationship with Soon Yi Previn. This story is about a young woman whose life was irreparably damaged when she tried to speak out and learned a heartbreaking lesson that the world can be a willfully ignorant place when confronted with an accusation of sexual abuse against a powerful and famous man. And perhaps more so when the individual is a child. In 2014, Dylan spoke out again in an open letter in the New York Times and then again in Los Angeles Times op-ed in 2017. She was not a vengeful or unhinged woman hysterically making false allegations. She was a rational, coherent, fully credible woman standing by her story of sexual abuse. She also challenged the reader by posing a very simple question: “Why has the #MeToo revolution spared Wood Allen?” It was a question that caught many of us off-guard because we had given such little consideration to her version of events. But in posing the question, she forced many of us to ask ourselves this—did we make a mistake all those years ago when we dismissed her story and threw our common sense out the window in our zeal to defend and protect a man who most likely didn’t deserve it?
And yet, despite all this, by the end of the documentary there is a sense of hope. We aren’t the same culture now that we were then. There has been something of an awakening, a realization, that women who allege sexual abuse have a right to be heard and taken seriously, that they often have a great deal to lose by coming forward and that it takes enormous courage to do so. This is true progress. Going forward, women and girls realize that the situation is not utterly hopeless the way it once was. And for that we have brave individuals like Dylan Farrow and the #MeToo movement she helped create to thank.
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