First off , I don’t know if Woody Allen abused his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow and nor do you. I only know what I am inclined to believe and what the reasons are. Those reasons are, in fact, opinions. Some are to do with this particular case, some with the way that victims of abuse are routinely dismissed, some with the way Hollywood operates. Some are to do with the films he makes – the texts themselves – and some with the context: the context in which so many perpetrators walk free. That context is changing.
When the custody battle between Farrow and Allen took place in 1992, social media was not around. Right now online, especially on Twitter, many people are absolutely certain that Allen is guilty. Just as they are absolutely certain that Amanda Knox is guilty, just as they will be absolutely certain that what I am saying here is wrong. There is not a lot of nuance in Hashtag Justice. There is a hashtag #IBelieveDylanFarrow.
This is destroying Allen’s reputation as much as the explosive custody case did at the time. It is worth reiterating that the judge, Elliott Wilk, found the evidence of abuse against the seven-year-old Dylan “inconclusive” and doubted that Allen could ever acquire “the insight and judgment necessary for him to relate to Dylan appropriately”. He damned his parenting his skills, saying he did not qualify as “an adequate custodian for Moses, Dylan or Satchel”. He also talked about the way he isolated Soon-Yi Previn from the rest of her family, leaving her with “no visible support system”.
Was this part of the grooming he used to cover up abuse of Dylan? I don’t know, but clearly for most people he crossed over a boundary with his relationship with Soon-Yi.
Such boundary crossing is, as we know, not uncommon for the rich and powerful and nor is Hollywood Babylon the only institution to shrug it off. The Golden Globes award Allen was recently given for lifetime achievement seems to have activated the Farrow family. Dylan’s open letter is harrowing, and given more power coming via the writer Nicholas Kristof, who is not only a friend of the family but also a brilliant campaigner for the rights of women and girls. We know that it takes immense bravery to speak out. We know that false allegations do happen, but rarely. We know that the reality of child abuse is that we continue to ignore the victims.
In Britain, a weird kind of post-Savile displacement occurred where the victims were again “disappeared”. Discussion moved on to the institutions that had housed this abuse – all of them – and then focused on the management of the BBC. Right now there are ongoing trials of old men charged with rape and abuse. These are necessary, however uncomfortable. For the alternative is what we are seeing online: kangaroo courts where people not in possession of many facts are not doing the real victims any favours. Someone tweets “#IBelieveDylanFarrow because it wouldn’t be the first time a film-maker guy rapes little girls”. No it wouldn’t. I assume this is a reference to Roman Polanski.
Polanski, it is important to note, was arrested, charged, made a plea bargain and fled the US when it look like he might be imprisoned. The man is a genius, which is why I wanted to interview him some 20 years ago. Since then, attitudes have changed – and I have changed my attitude, too. I now think I should not have given him publicity. I now think I got it wrong. But with Polanski there is no doubt of his guilt.
With Allen there is doubt and probably always will be. His detractors use his films as evidence; his fans refuse to give them up. Actually, the great Joan Didion’s takedown of his characters all living in self-absorbed, privileged adolescence still hits home. The old questions are asked again, though we already know the answer: can great art be made by the immoral or the amoral? Of course, history provides the evidence again and again.
As I said, I am inclined to stand alongside Dylan’s howl of pain but it is untenable to think that any justice is served for victims by tweeting opinion as fact. Due process, the law, is slow and complicated, but we are waking up gradually to the fact that we must listen to the voices of victims. But justice is key here. Because so many victims have been ill-served by the system for so long, there is a void into which rush the certainties of online mobs.
It is easier to see that Hollywood has been complicit in child abuse than to address the shaming and blaming of victims closer to home. Indeed, home is exactly where most children are abused. And where we really don’t want to look. If Dylan Farrow’s letter helps other people speak up and get justice, she has done something heroic.
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