I have been thinking a lot about Dylan Farrow‘s open letter about Woody Allen. Since becoming aware of Farrow’s allegations of sexual abuse against Allen, I haven’t been able to look at him the same way. I do not watch his movies, I can’t talk about him in a positive way, and I got angry during the Golden Globes. Here’s the most painful, horrifying excerpt of Farrow’s letter:
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.
The rest of the piece is just as difficult to read, but if you can, you should. First of all, here is how Woody Allen himself responded–well, how his attorney, Elkan Abramowitz, responded to Mother Jones:
It is tragic that after 20 years a story engineered by a vengeful lover resurfaces after it was fully vetted and rejected by independent authorities. The one to blame for Dylan’s distress is neither Dylan nor Woody Allen.
Then, how Allen’s publicist Leslee Dart responded yesterday, also to Mother Jones:
Mr. Allen has read the article and found it untrue and disgraceful. He will be responding very soon…At the time, a thorough investigation was conducted by court appointed independent experts. The experts concluded there was no credible evidence of molestation; that Dylan Farrow had an inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality; and that Dylan Farrow had likely been coached by her mother Mia Farrow. No charges were ever filed.
“No charges were ever filed” will never be an argument against allegations. No charges were ever filed in so, so many rape cases no matter how much “credible evidence” there was; in so many others, even when charges were filed and there was DNA, perpetrators have been let go with nothing more than probation, if that.
So, who in Hollywood supports Farrow? Lena Dunham, for one:
To share in this way is courageous, powerful and generous. Please read: http://t.co/RKKREFB8hM
— Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) February 1, 2014
Grateful my timeline is full of so much love and respect for Dylan — Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) February 2, 2014
Comedian Jenny Johnson went blunt with her comments:
Maybe this will help other victims and convince Hollywood to stop kissing Woody Allen’s ass: http://t.co/P6FIsBiyac
— Jenny Johnson (@JennyJohnsonHi5) February 1, 2014
ESPN writer Jane McManus voiced a perfect summation of how many of us who grew up loving Allen’s films feel:
Just read Dylan Farrow’s piece on alleged abuse by Woody Allen. Reminds me: Choose your heroes carefully and be willing to let them go.
— Jane McManus (@janesports) February 1, 2014
And writer Jack Moore (he does @SeinfeldToday, which you should follow) questioned how the same people who were revolted by the Jerry Sandusky/Penn State scandal could possibly stand behind Woody Allen right now. They are presumably the same folks who critique Chris Brown‘s behavior but think Roman Polanski is a standup guy because he made some good movies.
The way people responded was equally as important as the way people did not respond. People who have made films with Allen recently, for example, have remained silent: Cate Blanchett, Scarlett Johansson, Louis C.K., Alec Baldwin,
all three of whom were in Blue Jasmine but none have spoken up (to my knowledge) regarding Farrow’s letter, though in it, she asked, “What if it were you?” and “What if it had been your child?”
One of my favorite pieces I read on the topic all day was “Woody Allen’s Good Name” by Aaron Bady, which not only argues for observers and fans to lend Farrow the same credibility they offer Allen, but also the idea that it is okay to say “probably.” An excerpt:
I think Woody Allen probably did it, though, of course, I could be wrong. But it’s okay if I’m wrong. For two reasons. First, because my opinion is not attached to a juridical apparatus—because I have not been empowered by jails and electric chairs and states of exception to destroy people’s lives—it isn’t necessary for me to err heavily on the side of “we need to be really fucking sure that the accused did it.”
The second reason it’s okay if I’m wrong is that I’m probably not wrong. It’s much more likely that I’m right. Because I am not on Woody Allen’s jury, I can be swayed by the fact that sexual violence is incredibly, horrifically common, much more common than it is for women to make up stories about sexual violence in pursuit of their own petty, vindictive need to destroy a great man’s reputation.
Rather than stating “yes, he did it” or “we can’t ever know what truly happened,” you are allowed to say, “Yes, I think this probably happened.” By having a strong opinion, you are not putting him in jail–indeed, at this point, I can’t imagine anything could put him in jail–but you are empowering Farrow’s words.
Yesterday, writer Mal Harris tweeted this:
You can assume all rape allegations are true and be right a higher percentage of the time than you are normally in your life about anything.
— Mal Harris (@BigMeanInternet) February 2, 2014
It is true. It is so true. As a side note, the interesting (well, semi-interesting, I suppose) thing about Harris and Bady is that both are men. (They are both also from the blog The New Inquiry which I am now pretty thrilled about.) While there are obviously men who tend to condescend and patronize when talking about rape culture, these are just normal human beings being humanly empathetic. In Bady’s piece, for example, there wasn’t the same manplaining, here-ladies-I-know-whatcha-gotta-do attitude that pervades so much of male-driven conversation regarding rape culture, violence against women, and misogyny. It offers some of the easiest advice for what “normal” people can do for rape survivors: believe us.
I believe Dylan Farrow, for the record, not that I can do much about it. I’m not saying I can prove it, nor am I saying I am definitively correct, but every time somebody utters the whole “she’s just trying to get attention” or “her mom told her to” or “she wants to bring down a good man” or any other bullshit unfounded accusation back to her, my reasoning deepens. Do these people realize what kind of attention comes from accusing somebody of rape? It is nearly never remotely positive; it consistently includes people calling you a slut, a liar, a bitch, an attention whore, a gold digger.
When women accuse famous, wealthy, beloved men of rape, people do not respond with flowers and cuddles and hugs. Nowadays especially, the public figuratively crucifies the victim while friends, family and business links come out to publicly support the accused, often while insulting the integrity of the accuser. Lying about rape is not something nearly anybody does (though on the extremely rare occasion it does happen, MRA sites are all about it because they think it “proves” rape statistics must be wrong).
So, how will you respond? If you believe Farrow, I hope you will do something that is small but significant. If somebody you know still cites Woody Allen as a great director, perhaps explain the allegations (if they have not heard of them somehow) or just explain why glorifying somebody who was accused by his former stepchild of molestation is perhaps not the best use of their positive words. Don’t let it be brushed off. It’s just as important as if she were still seven years old and were accusing him then. Don’t let this conversation slip away.