As a filmmaker who has directed documentaries, and an academic who has taught theory classes about them, I watch programs that are labeled “non-fiction” with a wary and critical eye, aware of how audio-visual presentations can manipulate what we see, what we don’t see and how we see or don’t see events and claims presented as “truth.”
How I wish I’d had these same fine-honed skills when I first consumed the available news coverage regarding the Woody Allen/Farrow family scandal in the early 90s. I wish we all had. Maybe then Mia and Dylan Farrow would have had a fair shot at voicing their version of events. Instead, we got the Woody Allen version. Period.
That’s seriously messed up.
With ALLEN V. FARROW we’re likewise presented with a single, highly biased version of a very complex story, though this one only after having been subjected to the other version for years. As such, I did not fault the series for making this single-perspective choice. It’s transparent at least, which is more than I can say for Allen’s approach.
And in the spirit of transparency, let me say up front I did not go into this series expecting it to change my mind. I did not doubt Dylan Farrow’s claims she’d been abused. With the advent of the Internet and access to more diverse information, I long ago recognized I’d been duped by the media like too many others into considering Allen’s self-serving account of what had occurred.
Rather, my reasons for watching this series were two-fold. As an academic I wanted to form my own opinion on a docuseries some suggest support Allen’s guilt without a doubt and others call a hatchet job. And as a feminist I wanted to see how it tackled the bigger story here—how our society’s patriarchally constructed unfair demonization of women leads to universally one-sided media accounts that manipulate even educated, social-justice oriented people in strategic and insidious ways.
Overall, I came away from the series with mixed feelings, and had I not been committed to watching its entirety for aforementioned reasons, I might very well have stopped watching after the first episode, by far the weakest, relying on such heavy-handed, tabloid-y techniques as sinister music and eerie shots of empty hallways and bedrooms in the Farrow home. There was a lot of redundancy as well, not to mention the completely unnecessary inclusion of recorded conversations between Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, during which Farrow merely repeats what she’s already told us in previous interview footage, and Allen’s comments are too muffled to decipher.
Granted, there were some pretty damning interviews with neighbors that did indeed suggest at the very least suspicious behavior by Allen. But on the whole, the first episode left me feeling much like I imagine the jurors did during the O.J. Simpson trial. It seemed like Allen was guilty, and yet the questionable behavior of and omissions by the prosecutors, did not inspire my confidence.
That changed, however, over the next three episodes. Even at my wariest with the filmmakers, there was an abundance of new information that, for me, hammered any remaining nails into Allen’s coffin of guilt. Most notably was that hailing from Allen’s own documented words. There is one recorded conversation between Farrow and Allen where we hear him clearly, and his cold, calculated responses, and tone, struck me as narcissistic if not downright sociopathic. Likewise, his disturbing notes from his past scripts (many unproduced, and all located in the Princeton Library archives) absolutely revealed a sexual predilection for inappropriately young girls. Exacerbating this unseen side of the story are details about highly suspect court case procedures, including the unorthodox, prolonged examination, and evaluation, of Dylan Farrow, plus the video of young Farrow herself that clearly indicates this is not some brilliant child actor having been coached. She even corrects her mother when Mia asks if Allen had removed Dylan’s underpants with a categorical denial that he did not.
I’d argue that there are sufficient other details to present a more than compelling case for anybody with lingering doubts that justice in this case has not been served. Nevertheless, I wish the filmmakers had given us a two-episode series instead of extending it into four, losing the melodramatic theatrics and vague speculations, adhering instead to the abundant supportable facts and sticking to what the film does well—giving us yet another example of how our justice system is warped by patriarchal biases perpetuated by those in power (including both government officials and members of the media.
Hopefully, ALLEN v. FARROW, combined with other whistle-blowing efforts, including FRAMING BRITNEY SPEARS, LEAVING NEVERLAND, SURVIVING R. KELLY and the fictional yet insightful THE PEOPLE v. O.J. SIMPSON will not only open more eyes and hearts but help us fix our broken system. In light of the Derek Chauvin trial outcome, it seems we may be taking our first baby steps, but we still have a helluva long way to go.
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