This morning I finally sat down and read two pieces that I’d been hearing about over the last couple of days. The first was an article titled The Woody Allen Allegations: Not So Fast. I have to admit, I stopped reading it at a certain point when I began to strongly disagree with the way the author positioned his argument. And it needs to be said that I went in with a very open mind; I went in like the big Woody Allen fan that I am. Or that I was. Anyway, I’m still working my way through Weide‘s essay in defense of Allen, but I did finish reading Dylan Farrow‘s open letter. Click inside for more.
Dylan‘s open letter was published by Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times. His note prefaces her piece:
(A note from Nicholas Kristof: In 1993, accusations that Woody Allen had abused his adoptive daughter, Dylan Farrow, filled the headlines, part of a sensational story about the celebrity split between Allen and his girlfriend, Mia Farrow. This is a case that has been written about endlessly, but this is the first time that Dylan Farrow herself has written about it in public. It’s important to note that Woody Allen was never prosecuted in this case and has consistently denied wrongdoing; he deserves the presumption of innocence. So why publish an account of an old case on my blog? Partly because the Golden Globe lifetime achievement award to Allen ignited a debate about the propriety of the award. Partly because the root issue here isn’t celebrity but sex abuse. And partly because countless people on all sides have written passionately about these events, but we haven’t fully heard from the young woman who was at the heart of them. I’ve written a column about this, but it’s time for the world to hear Dylan’s story in her own words.)
One thing that has struck me in the media coverage of this story is the description of Allen as Farrow‘s “adopted father.” It’s akin to the insistence that Soon Yi (now Allen‘s wife) was not Allen‘s biological daughter. For example, this is about where I stopped reading the article in defense of Allen:
First, the Soon-Yi situation:
Every time I stumble upon this topic on the internet, it seems the people who are most outraged are also the most ignorant of the facts. Following are the top ten misconceptions, followed by my response in italics:
#1: Soon-Yi was Woody’s daughter. False.
#2: Soon-Yi was Woody’s step-daughter. False.
#3: Soon-Yi was Woody and Mia’s adopted daughter. False. Soon-Yi was the adopted daughter of Mia Farrow and André Previn. Her full name was Soon-Yi Farrow Previn.
#4: Woody and Mia were married. False.
#5: Woody and Mia lived together. False. Woody lived in his apartment on Fifth Ave. Mia and her kids lived on Central Park West. In fact, Woody never once stayed over night at Mia’s apartment in 12 years.
#6: Woody and Mia had a common-law marriage. False. New York State does not recognize common law marriage. Even in states that do, a couple has to cohabitate for a certain number of years.
#7: Soon-Yi viewed Woody as a father figure. False. Soon-Yi saw Woody as her mother’s boyfriend. Her father figure was her adoptive father, André Previn.
In the case of Dylan Farrow, I think I can speak for many children who are adopted and say that we do NOT consider our adoptive parents to be “adoptive parents.” They ARE our parents. If you have ever heard me reference my Mom, I am most likely talking about my adoptive mother, but I would never call her that unless someone asked me to specify. I say that to say, if I were sexually abused by an adoptive parent, that would be no less horrific to me than someone else’s abused at the hands of a biological parent. It would be a slightly different kind of horror, perhaps, but telling me that he wasn’t my father by blood would not help. So I take issue with the many articles and headlines stressing that Dylan was maybe abused by her adoptive father.
And as far as Soon Li is concerned, I also don’t buy that she did not see Allen as a father figure. And then there’s this open letter from Dylan:
What’s your favorite Woody Allen movie? Before you answer, you should know: when I was seven years old, Woody Allen took me by the hand and led me into a dim, closet-like attic on the second floor of our house. He told me to lay on my stomach and play with my brother’s electric train set. Then he sexually assaulted me. He talked to me while he did it, whispering that I was a good girl, that this was our secret, promising that we’d go to Paris and I’d be a star in his movies. I remember staring at that toy train, focusing on it as it traveled in its circle around the attic. To this day, I find it difficult to look at toy trains.
For as long as I could remember, my father had been doing things to me that I didn’t like. I didn’t like how often he would take me away from my mom, siblings and friends to be alone with him. I didn’t like it when he would stick his thumb in my mouth. I didn’t like it when I had to get in bed with him under the sheets when he was in his underwear. I didn’t like it when he would place his head in my naked lap and breathe in and breathe out. I would hide under beds or lock myself in the bathroom to avoid these encounters, but he always found me. These things happened so often, so routinely, so skillfully hidden from a mother that would have protected me had she known, that I thought it was normal. I thought this was how fathers doted on their daughters. But what he did to me in the attic felt different. I couldn’t keep the secret anymore.
When I asked my mother if her dad did to her what Woody Allen did to me, I honestly did not know the answer. I also didn’t know the firestorm it would trigger. I didn’t know that my father would use his sexual relationship with my sister to cover up the abuse he inflicted on me. I didn’t know that he would accuse my mother of planting the abuse in my head and call her a liar for defending me. I didn’t know that I would be made to recount my story over and over again, to doctor after doctor, pushed to see if I’d admit I was lying as part of a legal battle I couldn’t possibly understand. At one point, my mother sat me down and told me that I wouldn’t be in trouble if I was lying – that I could take it all back. I couldn’t. It was all true. But sexual abuse claims against the powerful stall more easily. There were experts willing to attack my credibility. There were doctors willing to gaslight an abused child.
After a custody hearing denied my father visitation rights, my mother declined to pursue criminal charges, despite findings of probable cause by the State of Connecticut – due to, in the words of the prosecutor, the fragility of the “child victim.” Woody Allen was never convicted of any crime. That he got away with what he did to me haunted me as I grew up. I was stricken with guilt that I had allowed him to be near other little girls. I was terrified of being touched by men. I developed an eating disorder. I began cutting myself. That torment was made worse by Hollywood. All but a precious few (my heroes) turned a blind eye. Most found it easier to accept the ambiguity, to say, “who can say what happened,” to pretend that nothing was wrong. Actors praised him at awards shows. Networks put him on TV. Critics put him in magazines. Each time I saw my abuser’s face – on a poster, on a t-shirt, on television – I could only hide my panic until I found a place to be alone and fall apart.
Last week, Woody Allen was nominated for his latest Oscar. But this time, I refuse to fall apart. For so long, Woody Allen’s acceptance silenced me. It felt like a personal rebuke, like the awards and accolades were a way to tell me to shut up and go away. But the survivors of sexual abuse who have reached out to me – to support me and to share their fears of coming forward, of being called a liar, of being told their memories aren’t their memories – have given me a reason to not be silent, if only so others know that they don’t have to be silent either.
Today, I consider myself lucky. I am happily married. I have the support of my amazing brothers and sisters. I have a mother who found within herself a well of fortitude that saved us from the chaos a predator brought into our home.
But others are still scared, vulnerable, and struggling for the courage to tell the truth. The message that Hollywood sends matters for them.
What if it had been your child, Cate Blanchett? Louis CK? Alec Baldwin? What if it had been you, Emma Stone? Or you, Scarlett Johansson? You knew me when I was a little girl, Diane Keaton. Have you forgotten me?
Woody Allen is a living testament to the way our society fails the survivors of sexual assault and abuse.
So imagine your seven-year-old daughter being led into an attic by Woody Allen. Imagine she spends a lifetime stricken with nausea at the mention of his name. Imagine a world that celebrates her tormenter.
Are you imagining that? Now, what’s your favorite Woody Allen movie?
I also want to share another comment from a Jezebel reader that I found to be really powerful:
Yeah, it really inconveniences people when you start talking about your sexual abuse. People have to look at the abuser in a completely different way, a way they don’t really like. People have to consider their own morals and beliefs and ideals, and confront things they don’t like confronting. In my case, it was inconvenient for me to name my abuser and talk about my abuse because people had to look at my abuser – a man who had been an honor-roll student, star athlete, etc. – in a way that caused a lot of cognitive dissonance for them. It would be so much easier if we could just separate the abuse from the sum total of the abuser’s life, right, and claim the abuse doesn’t matter because so-and-so has done such-and-such? And it would be so much easier if the abused could just “get over it” and compartmentalize their abuse and not think about it so much. Then we could all go on like nothing had ever happened, and eat popcorn while watching Woody Allen movies and cheer on the star athletes and all will be lovely.
I was six years old when I was sexually assaulted by the son of a family friend who was babysitting me. I remember everything. I didn’t understand what had happened to me, for a long time, but I always remembered it. Dylan remembered her abuse too, all this time. Like her, I developed an eating disorder and became a cutter. Like her, I found salvation in finally speaking my truth and receiving support from my husband and family. The fact that it is inconvenient for fans of Woody Allen’s movies that Allen is a pedophile who sexually assaulted his 7-year-old daughter should not keep Dylan from continuing to speak up. And anyone who wants to bring up Allen’s accomplishments as an “auteur,” or ideas of false accusation, is victim-shaming and engaging in unconscionable apologist behavior. Period.
Have you guys been following this story? Can you still call yourself a Woody Allen fan? And do you still believe in separating a person from their art? (All questions I’m currently asking myself.)