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After HBO’s ‘Allen v. Farrow’ Men Should Ask Themselves Why They’re Still Defending Woody Allen
Allen v. Farrow put a lump in my throat. As I sat there next to my partner, her guffawing in a rage to scene after tragic scene, something rose up to the surface for me. It was an old reflex, one I hadn’t felt in years. While Dylan and Mia Farrow recounted the traumas they suffered at the hands of this powerful and manipulative man with such horrifying frankness, I felt an inclination not to believe their stories. Something from within my gut was saying these women are not telling the truth. They seem vindictive. Unhinged. Crazy. I know better than to listen to this voice. Through therapy, through growth, I stopped wrestling with it a long time ago. But I was disappointed to feel its presence again. And I began to understand that whether it be by the media, my role models, or the way that so many of us–men in general–speak about women when they’re not around, that it’s been programmed in me not to believe Dylan and Mia Farrow.
I’ll be the first to admit, I loved Woody Allen’s movies. Worshipped them, even. I had an Italian art print of Sleeper on my wall through college. My first year in New York, I made a black-and-white short film about a comedian who introduces the grandeur of the Manhattan bridge to a dismayed French woman. I longed for the day I’d have enough cash to casually walk into the Carlyle hotel and see Allen play clarinet with his band. He represented, I recall with shuddering embarrassment, exactly the sort of guy I wanted to be.
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I defended Allen online, too. A thread exists deep on my Facebook timeline between myself and a friend from school, the memory of which has made me cringe for years. She writes that Allen is vile and that his misdeeds are glaring. I insist that all the allegations made against him have been debunked. They have not. I was wrong. The court cases are one thing. But in HBO’s recently completed four-part series Allen v. Farrow, viewers see Dylan and Mia Farrow’s complete side of the story.
Though I found the documentary less than perfect (read Sophie Gilbert on The Atlantic for an excellent assessment of the series’ blindspots), watching Dylan relive her trauma in interview after interview filled me with shame. And Allen’s words–his own words, from his 2020 audiobook narration, and from recorded phone conversations between the director and Farrow–are enough to make anyone recoil. The way he so plainly describes how he and Soon-Yi had been “just been going through the motions” for years prior to their first kiss, despite the young woman, who’d never had a serious relationship or father figure, who may or may not have even been 21 at the time, being Farrow’s adopted daughter.
I insisted that all the allegations made against him had been debunked. They have not. I was wrong.
I deserve to feel ashamed for how I used to think about Woody Allen. It was almost ten years ago, but I’d defended him. More than shame, though, the haunting experience of watching Allen v. Farrow makes me understand that the question of whether or not you believe Allen abused Dylan Farrow has nothing to do, really, with Woody Allen. It’s not really about Dylan Farrow, either–though she certainly deserves to be validated after all the decades of trauma she’s suffered. It’s something about the way Allen defends himself on a 60 Minutes interview, saying, “Be logical about this. I’m 57. Isn’t it illogical that I’m going to pick this moment in my life to become a child molester?” And he goes on to insist, “if I wanted to be a child molester, I had many opportunities in the past.” It’s something about us–about men and how we are raised to view women. It’s that unspoken agreement we have when all the women leave the table, when we’re a few drinks in, when we nod our heads around that word we use so much to describe them. Crazy.
Allen v. Farrow is about as damning a portrait of the director that you can ever imagine, yet Allen’s defenders persist. It seems nothing, not even testimony from outside observers, people who were present at the house on the day Dylan says she was abused, people who had witnessed Allen’s behavior with the child firsthand, can shift their conviction about this man they’ll never know more intimately than as a character from a comedy film.
The film does not present any evidence to suggest that Dylan Farrow is lying. The same goes for her mother. In Allen v. Farrow, the women sit in front of the camera and articulate calmly the events of their lives. And though I have no reason, really, to think their stories are fake, this sensation from deep in my belly gets activated whenever I see them speak. When I watch Mia Farrow tell her story, I hear echoes of my young friends in grade school, complaining about their “psychotic” mothers at a pool party. “She takes my video games away too!” I think exchanging stories about the ways in which our mothers are crazy is a form of bonding for young men.
When I hear Dylan Farrow tell hers, I recall early in high school, experiencing the validation from older members of the cross country team after an emotional breakup. “They’re all crazy,” they said. I can remember it so vividly. Being validated, for the very first time, that my ideas about girls were true. I was right. They are crazy. Where does a boy get these ideas, if not from the older men who either don’t challenge them, or rather implant them into younger generations themselves?
Allen v. Farrow is about as damning a portrait of the director that you can ever imagine, yet Allen’s defenders persist.
Woody Allen activates something in men, I think. I know because he activated it in me. His conduct, the way he shrugs off these accusations, his unapologetic attitude about his infidelity, the vile and dismissive way he speaks about Mia Farrow, his insistence of complete and total innocence, he activates those inherited biases we have.
I took down my posters of Allen a few years ago, not too long after that hideous comment thread. Dylan Farrow’s openness during the early days of the #MeToo movement, as I’m sure it did for a lot of men, finally crumbled my stubborn devotion to her father.
Separating the art from the artist–or acknowledging an artist’s glaring offenses–isn’t a difficult conversation for me. When I hear about Woody Allen, when we talk about Allen’s films, I can establish that he made an impact on my life, but that he no longer deserves my attention. I don’t watch his movies anymore. After everything I’ve learned, they just no longer interest me. But for a lot of men, Allen seems to be a figure of great importance. We must not lose him, they say. We can’t give in. But when you consider the broader picture, when you reflect on how men are raised, and how we’re taught to perceive a woman’s agency (or lack thereof), you begin to recognize that it’s not really about Farrow’s public persona or Allen’s influence–it’s about the comfort of an old conviction. A conviction, like so many other convictions, that we rely on. One that was taught to us by older men. One that is wrong.
Dom Nero is a staff video editor at Esquire, where he also writes about film, comedy, and video games.
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