Her name is Dylan Farrow
[Trigger Warnings: molestation, sexual assault, rape, pedophilia, sexism]
Twenty-one years ago, Vanity Fair published an article by Maureen Orth telling the other side of the story behind the split between Woody Allen and Mia Farrow after Farrow had reported a sexual relationship between Allen and their adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn. The article, which contained information from “two dozen interviews […], most of them individuals who [were] on intimate terms with the Mia Farrow household” sparked allegations of Allen’s disturbing relationship with the then seven year-old Dylan Farrow.
After the article was published, the allegations of this relationship were dropped and no further legal actions were taken for two reasons: first, the doctor heading the Connecticut investigation claimed that the young girl had “either invented the story under the stress of living in a volatile and unhealthy home or that it was planted in her mind by her mother.” Second, a state attorney wanted to spare the young girl from the trauma of appearing in court.
Dylan Farrow has remained relatively silent for the past two decades, since the publication of the Vanity Fair article. For the most part, while the allegations have been dropped, her brother, Ronan, and her mother, Mia, have been at the forefront of never letting the public forget about Woody Allen’s history — no matter how many films he makes, or awards he receives. A few weeks ago, Allen received the Golden Globes’ Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award (accepted on his behalf by long time friend Diane Keaton), to which both Ronan and Mia have responded with blacklash on Twitter.
It was only this past weekend that Dylan Farrow finally spoke out about her sexual abuse via an open letter published in The New York Times Blogs. Dylan writes,
“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 has silenced me. If 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.”
For the first time since the initial allegations in 1992, Dylan Farrow has been given a medium to voice her own story as a victim — and as a survivor.
The letter, however, has been met with criticism by people running at the defence of Woody Allen. The response surrounding the allegations against Allen are occurring on two levels. The first is the issue of rape culture. The second is the question that has been often asked when something as controversial as this story rises to the surface: Can we separate the Art from the Artist? If so, how, and how much?
The Daily Beast published an article by Robert B. Weide, who produced and directed a two-part PBS special, “Woody Allen: A Documentary”, defending Allen. When talking about the documentary, which only briefly covered the relationship between Allen and Soon-Yi Previn, Weide points out how he chose not to go into the “rabbit hole detailing the custody case, as [Weide’s] film was primarily about [Allen’s] work, and [Weide] had no interest in allowing it to turn into a courtroom drama.”
Although he didn’t include the issue in his film, Weide did thorough “research [on] the entire episode to reach [his] own conclusions about what did or didn’t take place.” Weide goes on to point out that “in absence of a response by Woody [re: the resurgence of the allegations], he was being swift boated. [Allen’s] silence created a vacuum that everybody with a keyboard was going to fill with whatever they believed or thought they believed or heard from someone else.”
Weide’s defence of Allen rests on two issues, according to the article. The first is Allen’s romantic/sexual relationship with Farrow’s adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn and the other is Farrow’s accusation that Allen had molested their seven year-old daughter in the midst of a custody battle. Immediately, what Weide does is erase — and further silences — Dylan Farrow by invalidating and taking away the credibility of her own experiences. His claim for Allen’s silence cannot possibly equate with Dylan’s own. Allen chooses to not speak of the matter (and when he does, he has denied and is denying the allegations) while Dylan had no other choice, struggling to find that voice and courage for 21 years. She was shut down and silenced by the constant praise for Allen and his films.
While Weide aims to find a different perspective and offer a different side of the story, his attempts are fraught with his own biases and his own inability to recognize the difference between victim and predator, perpetuated by the idea of innocent until proven guilty, as well as by a rape culture that has frequently silenced victims.
Perhaps the most unsettling part about this article is the circulation itself and how the responses (most of which agree with Weide) uphold the belief that there are multiple sides to the story and that this isn’t just a matter of ‘he says, she says.’ Amongst Weide’s proponents (and by extension, Allen’s) is Amanda Palmer, who posted the link to Weide’s article on her Facebook with the comment, “jesus [sic] this shit is complicated and an ongoing reminder that there’s 2, 3, 9 angles to every issue.” This issue is complicated; and perhaps, it is easier to believe that victims are just liars, rather than people who are suffering from sexual assault.
According to a SAGE study published in 2010 for Violence Against Women, 8 out of 135 reported rapes at an American university over a 10-year period are classified as false. That is 5.9%. Still, it is important to remember that statistics are only numbers, as this story remind us. “[N]o one hates truly false allegations like a rape survivor,” they write. “But we should balance that with the knowledge that the ‘official’ numbers are not accurate representation of the truth.” While there are dangers in falsely accusing someone of rape and sexual assault, there is also a long history of how society has been taught that women are untrustworthy liars.
For some, the defence of Woody Allen rests in his artistic capabilities, in his abilities to produce ‘great films.’ In the midst of Awards Season, the question of how deserving Allen is of his nominations and awards — especially with this controversy hanging thick in the air — is a big one. Can we separate Art from the Artist? Should we separate Art from Artist? Can we differentiate between Woody Allen the Director and Woody Allen the Pedophile who Sexually Abused a Seven Year-Old girl? Is Art, ultimately, enough to justify Allen’s actions?
I turn now, for a moment, to Allen’s films, to the stories and characters he’s constructed to weave into a narrative. If there is anything Allen is, it is consistent. While Diane Keaton praises Woody Allen’s treatment of female characters in his films during her speech for his Lifetime Achievement Award, I think the praise is unwarranted. The women in his films solely exist to highlight the men. They are shown negatively at the expense of drawing sympathy for the men. Such is the case when Allen (playing himself) or a stand-in Woody Allen character is left alone by the end of the film as the woman leaves him, perhaps to pursue much better things and move on with her life.
Ultimately, the focus is on the male character and more often than not, these men are merely self-inserts of Allen himself — to the extent that some characters have even displayed his exact same behaviours. (See: Allen’s character’s relationship with his niece in Crimes and Misdemeanours, or his relationship with a 17 year-old girl in Manhattan.)
In terms of representation, the lines are too blurred and the extent to which people will use his Art as a means to justify and excuse his actions can only go so far. (And trust, dear Reader, it isn’t going very far.) Furthermore, to use Art as a means to turn a blind eye to the fact that this is a man accused of child sexual abuse is fundamentally wrong. Art is a reflection of the Artist — it is nearly impossible to separate the two.
As written brilliantly by Aaron Bady for The New Inquiry:
“In the court of public opinion, a woman accusing a great film director of raping her has no credibility […]. He has something to lose […]. She does not […]. […] In rape culture, you can say things like, ‘We can’t really know what really happened, so let’s act as if Woody Allen is innocent (and she is lying).’ In rape culture, you can use your ignorance to cast doubt on her knowledge; you can admit that you have no basis for casting doubt on Dylan’s statement, and then you can ignore her account on herself. A famous man is not speaking, so her testimony is not admissible evidence. His name is Woody Allen, and in rape culture, that good name must be shielded and protected. What is her name?”
Her name is Dylan Farrow. The question of whether or not Woody Allen is guilty or innocent removes the focus on the fact that she has suffered in silence for 21 years; that at the time when she finally speaks up and voices her own experience, her own story, society is quick to shut her down and come to the defence of yet another privileged white man. That we must wait for the confirmation and validation of a man and until then, must give him the benefit of the doubt, rather than her (the victim) is at its core, rape culture. We cannot know for sure exactly what happened; but at the end of the day, there is less harm in believing Dylan than there is in protecting and defending Allen.