The Inconvenient Truth About Woody Allen

Indeed. Photo by me.

Indeed. Photo by me.

Dylan Farrow, Woody Allen’s adopted — I hate to even make the distinction, but I know if I don’t include the word “adopted” people will jump on me, as if the word “adopted” makes everything better — daughter, recently came out with an open letter detailing the sexual abuse she suffered under Woody Allen when she was 7 years old. Before I get to that, I think it’s important to provide some historical context. Though Woody Allen was accused of molesting his daughter, Dylan, in 1992, it went largely ignored compared to say, Roman Polanski’s crime — people heard about it, and knew about it, but didn’t really react like they did with Polanski. At the time it happened, Vanity Fair did a long story, detailing accounts by Maureen O’Sullivan, Mia Farrow’s mother, who says she saw inappropriate activity like Allen rubbing sunscreen where he shouldn’t:

One summer day in Connecticut, when Dylan was four and Woody was applying suntan lotion to her nude body, he alarmed Mia’s mother, actress Maureen O’Sullivan, and sister Tisa Farrow when he began rubbing his finger in the crack between her buttocks. Mia grabbed the lotion out of his hand, and O’Sullivan asked, “How do you want to be remembered by your children?” “As a good father,” Woody answered. “Well, that’s interesting,” O’Sullivan replied. “It only lasted a few seconds, but it was definitely weird,” says Tisa Farrow.

A baby-sitter also had her own strange account:

Dylan was on the sofa, wearing a dress, and Woody was kneeling on the floor holding her, with his face in her lap. The baby-sitter did not consider it “a fatherly pose,” but more like something you’d say “Oops, excuse me” to if both had been adults. She told police later that she was shocked. “It just seemed very intimate. He seemed very comfortable.”

Dylan told her mother that her (adopted) father, Woody Allen, had sexually abused her. Although the whole thing turned into a horrific media circus, it would have been so much worse had the internet exploded around that time. What most people remember about Woody Allen from the 1990’s is that he had an affair with, and went on to marry, girlfriend Mia Farrow’s (adopted) teenage daughter Soon-Yi. He seemed completely bewildered that people were so upset about his actions. Here are some excerpts from an interview with Time magazine, in which he famously said, “The heart wants what it wants”,

Q. Your movies always explore these types of emotions and motives. You must have sat up one night and thought about the problems you might cause dating the daughter of a previous lover, a mother she doesn’t like?

A. I didn’t think about her not liking Mia. I did think that, well, she is the adoptive daughter of my previous girlfriend, but that didn’t mean anything to me. It didn’t manifest itself in any significant way. She was a grown, sophisticated person. She was raised in New York.

Q. You’re a guy who can find moral dilemmas in a broken DON’T WALK sign. Didn’t you see some here?

A. I didn’t find any moral dilemmas whatsoever. I didn’t feel that just because she was Mia’s daughter, there was any great moral dilemma. It was a fact, but not one with any great import. It wasn’t like she was my daughter.

Q. Did you ever discuss with her, “What is Mom going to think of this?”

A. Mom would have thought more or less the same thing if it had been my secretary or an actress.

Q. Come on!

A. There is a different psychodynamic here, without any question, but the difference is one of small degree. If I had said to “Mom” — it was actually “Mia” that she called her — I’m in love with my secretary, there would have been some version of the same thing.

(“Come on!” indeed.) On Saturday, February 1st, Dylan Farrow posted an open letter to The New York Times, asking the reader,

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.

[…] 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.

Everyone caught up? Now, to get to my point. I am, or rather, was, an enormous Woody Allen fan. I found relief and solace in someone who was so talented and so much more neurotic than I am. That poster I posted at the top has been with me through 3 different houses and apartments. I have a vintage Annie Hall poster that I’ve had since I was a teenager. I loved Woody Allen. I loved his films, his writing, his whole persona. I heard about the abuse claims, but I thought they were just that — claims, made even more exaggerated by media hype and a resentful ex.

After reading Dylan’s letter, I can’t even look at his face. I understand how some people could. Some people can separate the artist from their work. I thought I could, but I’m starting to think that is impossible. The same person who came up with the witty dialogue in Annie Hall is the same person who molested a 7-year-old girl. He is the same person who still makes her feel like that scared little girl in an attic, unable to even glance at a toy train without feeling horror.

Let’s be honest here: this is a very inconvenient truth about Woody Allen for Woody Allen fans. It’s like when he first preyed on Soon-Yi; It was easy for me to reason, “Well, he didn’t actually adopt Soon-Yi and she wasn’t technically his stepdaughter either; he didn’t even live with Mia and it wasn’t illegal.” That was a very easy thing to do, and I did it. I didn’t even bother to read up on the story. I didn’t even know he took nude photos of a teenage Soon-Yi and hid them in his room. Being ignorant is easy.

It would be far easier to ignore Dylan’s letter, or to believe the piece written by a Daily Beast editor who supports Allen and claims he is not biased, despite the fact that he directed Woody Allen’s documentary and makes every appearance of being in his inner circle. It would be easier, though far more awful, to blame the victim or not believe her, though she has absolutely nothing to gain by showing her face and telling her story. It would be easier for Woody Allen fans to click the little “x” on Dylan Farrow’s piece and click the play button on a DVD player and enjoy their hundredth viewing of Manhattan (a film in which Allen’s character has a relationship with a teenage girl).

It’s easy to say, “it’s unfair of her to call out other actors, they had nothing to do with this.” It’s easy because we view actors as people who are above us. Who have rules that do not apply to them. Because, were Woody Allen the boss of a shoe store in a mall, everyone would be horrified and would congratulate Dylan Farrow for coming forward. If Cate Blanchett was someone who sold shoes in his store, we would say, “Come on now, you don’t need a job that badlyShame on you.” But we don’t, because Cate Blanchett is a famous actress, and Woody Allen is a famous director.

So while it’s far easier to ignore what Allen has done, I cannot. I believe Dylan Farrow. I believe that taking nude photos of his girlfriend’s daughter and then seducing her was wrong. I believe in the judge’s decision to take custody of Dylan away from Woody Allen and to deny him any sort of contact. I believe that something truly awful happened, and I believe that it is easier for Hollywood to celebrate Woody Allen and put Diane Keaton on a stage to accept an award on his behalf.

By ignoring this, we are turning our backs on that 7-year-old. We are telling her that we prefer her abuser’s entertainment for our enjoyment over her inconvenient truth. Is that really something we want to do?


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31 thoughts on “The Inconvenient Truth About Woody Allen

  1. sara

    What a thought-full and well written piece. Congratulaltions, Ms Almie, for using your strong and clear voice to garner attention and call out when something doens’t pass the “smell test”.

    Well done!

  2. Greg

    Thanks for writing this, Almie. I don’t think I can watch any more Woody Allen movies, past or present–I’m going to be deleting “Play It Again, Sam” (the only Allen-related movie) currently in my netflix queue. A commenter on another site who was sexually abused pointed out the details in Dylan’s account were too vivid to have been the result of prompting from Mia.

  3. Bea

    Beautiful and thoughtful. Thank you for writing about this with the respect and gravity it warrants. Very well done.

  4. WBlue

    Thanks for writing and posting this. I’ve been such a huge fan since my teenage years, and I have slowly realized that this is something horrifying that I cannot ignore. It’s sad to lose affection for something I’ve related with so much over the years, and I can still enjoy some of the art independently, perhaps, but I can’t look at him either. And how can I EVER look at Muriel Hemingway’s character in Manhattan and feel anything but incredible discomfort? What I’m trying to say is: I feel you, girl.

  5. Lotusfilmgirl

    I have been working on my response piece to all of this for the past three days. You, dear fellow word-chick, have nailed a clear and measured lay of the land in a way that my brain hasn’t yet allowed me. Well done, chica. Well done.

  6. Alex

    A well written piece, but a flawed one.

    In taking up the charge against Allen, one should look at ALL the facts. There was a court custody case that this issue was brought up with,That lasted 6 months…as a result no evidence was found of abuse, psychologists were brought in to evaluate Dylan, she was found to have a conflicted and often times rehearsed storyline of the events. In the end the judge ruled that Farrow be given the custody of the children based on Allen’s actions with Soon Yi, but that the evidence of abuse was inconclusive…the investigators who were charged in looking into the allegations concluded it didn’t happen.

    The DA thought that they had probable cause to prosecute, but all they had was the testimony of Dylan, nothing physical. They did not pursue the case as a result.

    In the events of this very tragic family story, the brother of Dylan has grown up hearing all of this from his mother and family about the abuse…has broken off contact with his mother and reconnected with Allen. I find it hard to believe if he honestly believe Allen did this that he would try to reconnect with him.

    That is that it’s all circumstantial. And Mia Farrow has recently come out to say she was unfaithful to Allen during the course of their relationship as well…and hasn’t exactly come away form this hypocritical. You mention Roman Polanski…who Mia Farrow has been a staunch supporter of to this day.

    1. amonavis

      To me, the outcome of the court case doesn’t mean that the abuse didn’t happen. A scared, little girl is not going to give perfect testimony. Sexual abuse doesn’t always leave a physical mark. Dylan Farrow really has nothing to gain from telling her story now, so why would she unless it’s true? She doesn’t need money or fame, and she certainly doesn’t need tons of people calling her a liar – so there’s really no motivation on her part to tell this story unless it’s to help give a voice to victims of sexual abuse. The whole family obviously has a lot of issues, but I’m not going to let Mia Farrow’s hypocrisy color Dylan’s story.

  7. Anonymous

    This is always a very difficult topic to discuss. As someone who was abused as a child, I appreciate your view, and for taking the time to shed some light on this.

    1. Almie Rose Post author

      Thank you for your comment. What happened to you shouldn’t happen to anyone, and I am so sorry it did.

  8. a. nonie mouse

    I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse myself, and I have sympathy for Dylan Farrow. I think it likely that she is telling the truth about Woody Allen. I feel no inner call or desire to forgo his films, however. None at all. (Except the ones that suck, of course.) Maybe something of the sort will creep up on me or surprise me at some future point. It’s been confusing to encounter this debate all over facebook. I don’t come out there as an incest and abuse survivor because I value my own emotional well being too fucking much for that. I do find it bizarre that comfort with continued enjoyment of Allen’s films is now suspect and even culpable in the eyes of many. Anyway, clearly this is a highly triggering subject for MANY. I’m sick of the debate. I’m also confused by it. I wish everyone well.

  9. Stephanie

    I’ve read a lot of different blogs and opinion pieces since Dylan Farrow’s open letter and this is one of the best. Thank you, this was well-written and thoughtful.

  10. Rob

    As a lifelong Woody Allen fan, I was feeling like I had to reconsider supporting him after reading the Vanity Fair article and others. But I have to say I think Woody does a very compelling job defending himself in this 1992 interview, especially taking into consideration Mia’s specific threats and the totally insane Valentine she made him:

    I don’t think it’s too far a stretch to think that Mia decided that he was, in her mind, a child molester because of his affair with Soon-Yi, so she decided to make her case by coaching Dylan through a fabrication. The private investigation found her to show signs of coaching. I hate to be in the position of doubting a potential victim, but I don’t think it was Dylan who’s at fault here.

    It also makes me insane that Mia publicly supports Roman Polanski, who is a confessed and convicted child molester.

  11. Johanna

    I’ve never been a fan, or actually seen any of his movies (unless it was without knowing about it) because I am much more at home with mindless blockbusters than any what I would call “quirky indie” films. That makes it very easy for me to come down on your side of this issue without any of the conflicting emotions I’m sure you must be feeling.
    I salute you for this really well-written piece!

  12. Simone

    I agree with the first comment – thanks for writing such a well thought out, balanced piece that put into words exactly how I feel. Coming out as someone who has been abused or violated, although empowering, isn’t exactly fun times – I can’t imagine why anyone would put themselves through that if it wasn’t true.

  13. Alley G.

    I’ve always thought he was a creep – this whole incident is the straw that hopefully breaks the camel’s back for former supporters. This man really belongs behind bars, and we all know it. Society is so fucking sick.

  14. y

    My hunch is she has been brainwashed by her mother, and now those “memories” seem to her to be true. If you really read all the details on both sides, in addition to the fact that Moses Farrow now admits their mother set it up and told the 7 yr old what to say, it adds up to Mia wanting to get back at Woody in the worst way possible. The saddest thing is that the little girl became the victim of that, and that Mia can’t just move on and forgive. I believe Woody 100%.

  15. Alley G.

    Also, her being “adopted” doesn’t make a difference when he had a hand in raising her- (some would argue the same for the one he formed a relationship with) as if that makes it any less wrong or disturbing. Point being he ASSUMED the father role- and is a pedophile. Does not deserve mercy. Should be banished from society. Won’t, because rich and ‘famous’….. I feel this would be an appropriate time to mention that the whole ‘pseudo-intellectual neurotic’ schtick is tired and frankly, annoying. This in regards to him, obviously, who took it to such a nauseating extreme.

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