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 badly. Shame 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?