„Allen v. Farrow” vs. Woody Allen

29 April, 2021

Every few years, depending on what new allegations of sexual abuse emerge from Hollywood, or driven by an argument I have with another cinephile just like myself, I end up spending hours on Wikipedia or other more obscure sources, digging in vain for the One answer: Is Woody Allen a pedophile?

The details remain largely the same, only that I have forgot them; if I find something new, it only means that I missed it before, that the interest of other people (fans or detractors) for Woody Allen brought another article out of the confines of the internet, and made it more accessible to others. What I do remember is only the answer: I don’t know. In fact, I am convinced that I will not arrive at an answer confirmed by direct evidence (yes, the testimony is direct evidence, but so is the testimony that contradicts it). So then, the more correct question I’m looking to get an answer for is this: Do I think Woody Allen is a pedophile?

The verdict

Allen v. Farrow, the 4-episode HBO miniseries, offers the perspective of the victim (Dylan Farrow, Allen’s adopted daughter) and brought the subject back on my radar. I postponed it as long as I could, then watched it with the “pencil in hand”. I took notes, screenshots, meticulously recorded all the ways and moments when Allen v. Farrow tries to convince through discourse, omission and interpretation, and less by evidence. I did what any jury does, because Allen v. Farrow is actually an indictment. And the verdict it expects from you is obvious from the beginning: guilty.

After I finished the series, that’s when the serious work really started: the binging, the research and the fact-checking. Just like Alice in Wonderland, I fell down the rabbit hole: each path ended in an intersection, each detail came with at least two different versions and infinite footnotes. And (what should have been) my review gradually turned into an annotated history of the Woody Allen case in its entirety. This article in The Guardian is an exhaustive inventory of the omissions and distortions that undermine Allen v. Farrow‘s approach regarding its investigative side, its process of finding/exposing the truth. The most exasperating part is that all these searches confirmed to me how biased Allen v. Farrow is, and how “creative” it is in connecting the dots into a flawless narrative, but in the end they couldn’t bring a clear answer to my most important question at all.

The role of a review is not to comment over “Is he guilty or not?”, but to discuss how the answer to this question is upheld by the film. But in the case of Allen v. Farrow, somewhat influenced by the critical reception of the documentary in the US (pretty much positive and extremely virulent against Allen) and by its polarizing nature, I felt that the first and last stop of any critical approach cannot be other than that. That’s why I started with the verdict. It’s an introduction that actually works also as a conclusion, and at the same time as an inevitable disclaimer: I still don’t know. Allen v. Farrow, and all the research after it, didn’t bring any changes, though it certainly shook me to the bone. In the legal terms that we have all learned from American films – and which I will turn to quite often – I am a juror unable to reach a conclusion, caught between probable cause and reasonable doubt. Depending on the party that wants to convince me, I’m ready to challenge either side of the story.

What follows after this introduction-conclusion is a discussion on the don’ts in documentary film, and, in general, on those things that can be said about the Woody Allen case, when the most important thing cannot be said. Allen v. Farrow ultimately serves as a pretext for exploring this 30-year-old case. This is because the documentary, through the way it is made – mostly archive footage, excerpts from films and recent interviews that take up old statements, already available in other formats –, summarizes in fact an entire history that begins in 1992. It is also the reason why I will often refer to a scene in the film, but I will provide a link to the source material (often included in the documentary in an edited form).

Allen v. Farrow
Allen v. Farrow

The facts

Here is a timeline of the events of the media and legal war between Allen and (the) Farrow(s) that the documentary series discusses. Given the mass information on this subject, and the obviously biased direction of Allen v. Farrow, I would say that this timeline, like the article in The Guardian, is a must-read. A minimum of context is inevitable:

January 13, 1992 – Mia Farrow discovers in Woody Allen’s apartment pornographic pictures with her adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn (19-21 years old at the time of the pictures). Farrow and Allen have been in a relationship for 12 years, have a biological child (Ronan) and two adopted children: Dylan, adopted only by Farrow during the relationship with Allen, and Moses, a child she had adopted alone and which Allen had become fonder of (the adoption had been finalized a month before the pictures were discovered). Farrow has 6 more children from a previous marriage (3 biological and 3 adopted).

August 4, 1992 – The alleged abuse of Dylan (7 years old) takes place. During the ensuing investigations, Allen’s previous problematic behavior toward the girl, which had been subject of discussion between Allen and Farrow, then for therapy, and described by the family psychologist as “inappropriately intense” but without sexual connotations, is revealed.

August 13, 1992 – Allen files a lawsuit for custody of the three children.

August 17, 1992 – Allen publicly announces his relationship with Soon-Yi Previn./Police announces the start of an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse on Dylan.

June 8, 1993 – Mia Farrow receives custody, Allen will not be in contact with the children anymore. It is the only legal decision that has been made in this case. Without reaching a conclusion, the court considers all the evidence related to the accusation of sexual abuse (the statements of witnesses, psychologists, medical experts, the recordings that Mia Farrow had made with Dylan talking about what happened).

September 25, 1993 – Frank Maco, the prosecutor in charge of the case, announces in a press conference that there is sufficient evidence (probable cause) to go to court, but they won’t proceed with it because they don’t want to create even more trauma to Dylan. Woody Allen was never tried or charged.

The Allen v. Farrow investigation: 4 charges

The above information is important, because the prosecution’s case is built on them – and on their juxtaposition. That’s because Allen v. Farrow is actually The People v. Allen, built in 4 combined directions – not necessarily without talent, and not with bad intentions either (insofar as “bad intentions” mean you realize you’re manipulating).

Mia 

The first direction is announced by the title itself, a reference to Kramer vs. Kramer, and it regards the fight for custody between Woody Allen and Mia Farrow, both in the media and in court. It’s actually the story of a vicious divorce which harms everyone involved. Here is an excellent text, which begins by giving credence to the victim, but also sheds light on the disastrous dynamics of a separation with many collateral victims: “Families are inherently messy and illogical, and the neat hero-villain frame the series superimposes doesn’t exactly fit.” Farrow and Allen have been together for 12 years, living in New York but in different apartments, separated by Central Park, and they became the quintessential New York couple. Talking about the beginnings of their relationship, Mia remembers that their apartments were quite close: “We’d turn our lights on and off at each other just to… It was a way to say «I love you». And I would sometimes hang a towel, a big red towel, out of the window, like «Love you huge».” Her eyes twinkle and she smiles lost in memory, as if she were interviewed in a documentary honoring Woody Allen. It’s one of the heartbreaking moments of the series – a character torn between two parallel truths that, despite all contradictions, fail to annihilate each other: Woody Allen the romantic, and Woody Allen the sexual predator.

Dylan

Things are different when it comes to Dylan Farrow (the main character). The shadow of abuse never seems to disappear, not even in the pleasant memories she has with her adoptive father (Woody Allen). The second direction of the series is the “fight” for control of the truth between Allen and Dylan Farrow, which is about recognizing the victim as a victim and punishing the aggressor (that particular have your day in court, even if it’s the court of public opinion). But it’s also about the unilateral (therapeutic) approach of the victim, about providing a platform and means to alleviate the burden. Here – in this Dylan v. Daddy Woody (as the prosecutor calls him) – is actually what might remain of this otherwise erroneous documentary on so many levels. It could also have led to a greater clarity on the truth, as is the case of Leaving Neverland: an unreliable, evasive, reflected truth. A somewhat abominable question, but in the end inevitable and human: “who I believe” becomes the best approximation of the truth in the absence of “what I know”. Here is an article that illustrates very well the sinuous way in which we arrive at such moral judgments on facts that are impossible to prove directly. Through almost everything it does when the camera is not on Dylan Farrow, the series sabotages this direct communication between the victim and the jury (meaning, the public).

Soon-Yi

The third direction is Allen’s relationship with Soon-Yi Previn, Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter. One of the issues is that Allen’s relationship with Dylan cannot be extracted from the other two relationships (with Mia and Soon-Yi). Each part of this media trial – defense and accusation – has used these two relationships in building narratives that cancel each other out. One idea that Allen v. Farrow presses on is the attempt to combine the two accusations (the relationship with Soon-Yi and the sexual abuse of Dylan) in the portrait of a predator who, if capable of one, is also capable of the other. On the other hand, Woody Allen’s defense upheld from the beginning the narrative of the “scorned woman”: Mia manipulated her 7-year-old child (Dylan) to take revenge on Woody for his relationship with Soon-Yi.

Roman, Harvey, MJ, Bill

This alleged abusive pattern extends to a retrospective analysis of Allen’s predisposition for underage girls (there are at least two documented cases where Allen’s girlfriends were 17) and to a psychoanalysis of his filmography (dominated by romantic relationships with big age differences). And with that, we reach the fourth direction the documentary bets on: a comprehensive sociological analysis of the unequal way in which the fight for truth (in court or in the eyes of the public) is carried between abusers (men) and victims (women, children). An approach that in itself could hold on, if the irrevocability of any commentary on this broad topic wouldn’t mechanically echo in the narrative that Allen v. Farrow tries to impose. Thus, everything becomes an argument going round and round to no end. Woody Allen abused his little girl. Look how many cases are there in history involving abusers: incest, rape, false theories on the psychology of betrayed women, battles for custody, fame and celebrity culture and the obsession with big names that proved to be perverts, the false argument of separating the art from the artist. Roman Polanski, Harvey Weinstein, Michael Jackson, Bill Cosby. Isn’t it true that if you look at this whole history full of people like them, it’s clear that Woody Allen abused his little girl?

Dylan and Mia Farrow (Allen v. Farrow)
Dylan and Mia Farrow (Allen v. Farrow)

Structurally, Allen v. Farrow fails precisely because it tries to untangle the relationships between these three female characters and Woody Allen, in addition to the attempt of reflecting historical injustices and disparities in one single case. But it already has the beginning (the sexual abuse) and the end (Woody Allen, the predator who got away with it). It’s the middle that remains just as tangled, and the thread that should lead you from start to end is a huge exercise of will and manipulation from the authors. The viewer is blindfolded (for those who simply watch the film and have no sympathy for Woody Allen that might drive them to conduct any extra research) and led by the hand to the exit of the maze. The problem with the way Allen v. Farrow works is that Woody Allen could very easily make a similar documentary, he could invite his own family, critics who could vouch for him, lawyers who represented him, different experts in sexual abuse, etc. and the result would be just as convincing (for those who have no resentment for Woody Allen as to push them to some extra research).

Solipsism – the prosecution witnesses

There was a lot of talk about the unilateral and biased way the documentary builds its case. In legal terms, there is no due process – the rules of a fair trial are not followed. The accused doesn’t get a chance to prove himself, no evidence is served in his favor, no witnesses on his side are interviewed, the experts who gave Allen favorable verdicts are dismissed by other experts.

The bigger problem is not that Allen v. Farrow is impartial, but that it’s so sure of its claims that it’s unable to see its own contradictions. And this is not about the information that has been dodged (see the article in The Guardian), but about what is declared in the documentary itself, information that should at least make you think, “wait, I can’t include this, because I contradict myself in that other part”. I searched a lot for the right word to describe what is fundamentally wrong with the way Allen v. Farrow works around the issue. I wanted to say that it’s a bad film, that it’s (intentionally) manipulative, that it aggressively backs you into a corner you can’t get out of unless you agree with it. I finally found it when I looked at the way Woody Allen relates to his own actions that destroyed the family: solipsism.

Allen v. Farrow “exists” and it’s true every second, everything else is at an uncertain level of existence, moral probity, intellectual capacity, relevance. This kind of interview doesn’t help at all either, where the creators justify themselves by saying that wanting to hear Allen’s version is like wanting to hear the version of someone who denies climate change (because it’s about scientifically proven facts). In the same interview, an equally silly metaphor is used: if it were any other crime, a car accident, you wouldn’t be interested in finding out the version of the person who caused the accident. If you are pro-Allen, this one-sided perspective will probably seem like propaganda to you; if you are against, then it’s a matter of giving the victim the opportunity to speak out. But why not both at the same time?

Dylan and Mia Farrow (Allen v. Farrow)
Dylan and Mia Farrow (Allen v. Farrow)

Some of these internal contradictions are related to the total lack of reaction to some bizarre/shocking statements made by Mia Farrow, to the impossibility and inability to filter information in a critical way. In the first episode, Mia remembers how they came to adopt Dylan (first her, then Allen). Allen was not at all interested in children, but told her that he could take on a more parental role if they were to adopt a “blonde girl”. The insinuations are obvious, from racism (Mia had only adopted Asian children before), to the fact that Allen was actually looking for a victim. I don’t know how verified this information is, but we’ll go with it. Mia’s response is mind-blowing: “I thought that if this is what he wants, I should find a blonde girl, and then maybe he’ll come to love her.” It’s not so much her statement that is shocking, but her presence in a documentary that she believes it will present her as the perfect mother. This detail becomes even more terrible in the last episode, when Mia asks Dylan – the blonde girl – if she blames her for bringing Allen into their family. If we were to believe Mia, things would be the other way around: Dylan – the blonde girl – was brought into the family because that’s what Allen wanted.

On the one hand, one might understand the ethical relationship you have with your character/witness – and the contractual terms that probably doesn’t leave much room for maneuver – but it’s more important to protect your character, which is why you shouldn’t expose them (again and again) to an audience (pro-Allen, or just anti-Mia) who will turn their testimony on all sides in a more or less aggressive manner. The moment you go into character assassination, you have to expect this to happen to your witnesses as well. An honest documentary filmmaker would either have cut these details or put them into context with Mia Farrow’s life experience. An honest documentary filmmaker wouldn’t have had Samantha Geimer in the film, whose abuser (Roman Polanski) was supported until recently by Mia Farrow. What does all this context clarify when it comes to the allegations of the abuse? Nothing. But the same argument can be made about associating Woody Allen with Polanski, Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby.

Frank Maco, Dylan Farrow (Allen v. Farrow)
Frank Maco, Dylan Farrow (Allen v. Farrow)

An important character in the film is prosecutor Frank Maco, who decided not to send the file to court – although he claims that there was sufficient evidence (probable cause) –, as to protect the child from the trauma the trial might have caused. Honesty and good intentions are presumed, and you have to admire a prosecutor who puts the victim above their own career. The central point of the Allen v. Farrow investigation is this: Woody Allen was as good as convicted, the evidence was there, but in order to avoid causing even more suffering to the victim, the trial was dropped. It’s a theory that has been repeated so much throughout the series that you no longer want to question it. Unfortunately, for the film, it’s Frank Maco who steps in and does it, under our own eyes, and the filmmakers’, who don’t even blink at his words: “I started asking her about her relationship with Daddy Woody. She didn’t answer at all. She had this glazed expression. I asked her again. Nothing. She completely shut down. The most vocal people who were all for going to court looked at me and we all shrugged. I wasn’t getting anywhere with this child.” What does this event prove about the truth of the abuse? Nothing. If you really want to trust the prosecutor’s embellishments, you will think that the “glazed expression” and the reluctance to come forward are traces of trauma. But the lawman just admitted, on the record, that they didn’t have the child’s testimony, and that he and his staff were at a standstill. It’s a truth that coexists with the desire to protect the victim. The solipsism of Allen v. Farrow is the inability to recognize when the version you want to propose is damaged from within. Then, it’s about how you relate to the viewer and the belief that the version you present is so invincible that you don’t need to correct the inconsistencies.

The defendant incriminates himself 

I might have got nowhere with the accusation of sexual abuse, but the film did lead to some revelations by shedding light on Allen’s relationship with Soon-Yi Previn. The documentary begins with a short excerpt from the famous press conference where Allen announces that he has filed for custody of the children, launches the theory of the vengeful woman, and ends with a (very) small gesture of repentance: “Still, something that I’m guilty of is falling in love with Mrs. Farrow’s adopted daughter.” The day before, Allen had revealed his love in a press release (to the surprise of Soon-Yi, who wasn’t presented before with a declaration as such from him). If the strategy sounds somewhat familiar, it’s because we saw it recently at Kevin Spacey: accused of sexually harassing a minor, Spacey countered by “revealing” that he’s gay. In 1992, Woody Allen also sacrificed himself, not only on the altar of sexual freedom, but even went one step higher – the altar of romance. Remorse comes with self-victimization: guilty of love. The whole relationship with Soon-Yi – including the indecent pictures episode – ultimately sounds like a Woody Allen script. Everything that followed after the discovery of this relationship feels like a true script, although probably set up by more pragmatic people (lawyers, PRs). This doesn’t necessarily make it untrue or prove his guilt in the other case; meanwhile he and Soon-Yi got married and raised two adopted girls. But you can’t help but wonder: What if everything was a bluff to get over the allegations of the abuse (no matter if they are real)? What if for the last 30 years Allen has been playing the romantic lead, the same role in which he has cast himself in so many of his films?

Moses Farrow, Soon-Yi Previn, Dylan Farrow, Woody Allen (Allen v. Farrow)
Moses Farrow, Soon-Yi Previn, Dylan Farrow, Woody Allen (Allen v. Farrow)

Soon-Yi Previn is a shield that protects Allen from the allegations of the abuse. It allows him to sustain that theory of the scorned woman, implying that the accusations are made up by Mia in order to get revenge. On the other hand, the accusation that he abused Dylan protected him in the public’s eye from the real impact of his relationship with Soon-Yi. The horror of incest (whether you believe it or not) made the relationship with Soon-Yi look like a minor eccentricity by comparison.

Woody Allen greeting the tourists from his gondola in Venice, with his new wife by his side, is something that makes your stomach turn. Not so much for the age difference at the time this relationship begins, and not just because Allen had met Soon-Yi when she was about 8-10 years old, while he was in a relationship with her adoptive mother, and then to become the biological and adoptive father for three of her siblings. The (moral) issue with Woody Allen – and which the documentary makes obvious, though unintentionally – is practically a matter of human decency. The problem is not what he did to Soon-Yi, but what he did to Mia Farrow. Why unintentionally? Because if the film were to do it on purpose, that would shed light precisely on the theory promoted by Allen: the scorned woman. If the monstrous scope of the abuse of trust were on the table, then Mia Farrow’s reaction to this abuse must also be put on the table: from the beating she gave to Soon-Yi (and which the documentary cannot avoid), to the psychologist’s testimony during the custody trial – according to which she was afraid for Allen’s life, to the famous voodoo card Mia sent to Woody on Valentine’s Day.

Mia, Ronan and Dylan Farrow, Woody Allen (Allen v. Farrow)
Mia, Ronan and Dylan Farrow, Woody Allen (Allen v. Farrow)

The discussion on moral/immoral is ultimately a dead end, as are the endless comments around “immoral, but not illegal”. There are fans who see Woody Allen’s marriage as a romantic ideal, just as there are probably people for whom adultery would send all three (Woody, Mia, Soon-Yi) to hell without discrimination. Things can be better understood when moral freedoms come to regulate legal freedoms. “His self-absorption, his lack of judgment and his commitment to the continuation of his divisive assault, thereby impeding the healing of the injuries that he has already caused, warrant a careful monitoring of his future contact with the children.” I quoted from the judge’s motivation, who granted custody to Mia Farrow. What comes to mind after Allen v. Farrow‘s four hours of incriminating speech are in fact Woody Allen’s self-incriminations (excerpts from his autobiographical audiobook Apropos of Nothing). The way his almost nonagenarian (and inevitably sleazy) voice describes a romantic story that might go in children’s books reflects the solipsistic impossibility of understanding the social context of his own actions.

But no matter how nauseous you might get while listening to Woody reminiscing on his relationship with Soon-Yi, it doesn’t compare to the feeling given by Roman Polanski talking about his 13-year-old victim in a heavy French-accent English: “She wasn’t unschooled in sexual matters”. If we only talk about how the two perceive their own actions (the ones they admit to), and how they justify themselves to the public opinion, things are somewhat equal (except for the fact that the passages in Polanski’s autobiography literally qualify as erotic literature).

The sentence was carried out beforehand

In a montage with the actors who distanced themselves from Allen, or expressed regret on working with him (some even donated their salaries), Kate Winslet dots the I: “They were introduced to the actors as people that were okay to work with. But now I feel like I have to say I shouldn’t have done that.” Her words tell more truths than Allen v. Farrow surmises. The truth of the documentary is that the industry is waking up and no longer supports abusers and inequalities.

The extra truth that Winslet tells is “they were introduced to the actors”. The things that are happening now with Woody Allen (professionally) are precisely the other way around: he was introduced to the actors as someone that is not okay to work with. Once again, good intentions are presumed. But behind every such speech is an army of PR, agents and managers, who manage the smooth running of the Kate Winslet “company”. Working with Woody Allen now means putting your career at stake. The same business logic explains why Amazon gave up working with him, and probably paid millions of dollars as a consequence. Ironically, Woody Allen’s memoirs (the audiobook version), which the documentary takes a lot of quotes from (but apparently not legally), are the same ones that Ronan Farrow had managed to stop from being published in the past. Allen v. Farrow makes a big deal about Allen’s PR machine that inoculated the public with his version (the scorned woman), but the same thing is happening now: one version replaces another and monopolizes the public space.

Allen v. Farrow
Allen v. Farrow

We’re not going to feel sorry for Woody Allen now, he’s probably the most successful director in the history of cinema (if we think about the total freedom of action, including budgets, and the fact that he released one film per year, four decades in a row). Of all these professional failures, which Allen himself laments over in the excerpts quoted in the film, one did caught my eye: “Schools have stopped teaching classes about my films.” The idea that Allen v. Farrow conveys, without saying it explicitly, is that Woody Allen should no longer be able to make movies (cancel culture). But as for what happens to the films already made, there is no unanimity among the film critics interviewed. Woody Allen can no longer make movies because various actors – Winslet, Amazon, etc. –, out of conviction and/or public pressure, no longer support him. But what should the others do, meaning those who do not produce films, but only consume them, spectators and film critics, teachers and students at a film school, for example?

Film critics, cinephiles, accomplices… the pitfalls of language

Enabler is a term with very well defined meaning in the psychology of abuse, which became very visible in the public discourse after the revelations about Harvey Weinstein. The approximate translation would be somewhere between accomplice and facilitator. Enabler was everyone in Weinstein’s entourage who facilitated the enticement and coercion of the victims, and then the cover-up: from limousine drivers to personal assistants and lawyers. The important thing to remember is that enabling doesn’t necessarily come with a legal guilt. In a broader sense, enablers are those who remain silent and continue their collaboration with the accused, helping to maintain their status in the community. It’s a concept that can be extended to no end, from the actors starring in his films, to the producers who invest money, to the organizers of galas and festivals that celebrate his work, to the critics who write about his films, to the people who buy tickets to go see his movies.

A film critic deconstructs in Allen v. Farrow the mental process by which acknowledging the existence of an abusive artist means to perpetuate the abuse: “I gave that person an audience, exposure, power. By writing about his films, I increased the power he abused.” It’s a valid argument – as long as you don’t extend it to other people –, and it also presents more nuanced perspectives, which say that ultimately the art cannot be separated from the artist, but that doesn’t mean you have to cancel the art. If Allen v. Farrow stops just in time, it doesn’t happen the same with the critical reception of the HBO series. There is a palpable division between the way the documentary was received in America and the reactions in Europe and other parts of the world.

European critics focused on the shortcomings of the documentary (as an art and as an investigation), and left the question of Allen’s guilt in the air. It is also what I tried to do in this text: to gather in one place all the impressions I got from watching Allen v. Farrow (often enough, the documentary was just the starting point), beyond the most important question for which I have yet no answer. In the US, on the other hand, the documentary was very well received, especially in its judicial dimension, as a way to put an end, once and for all, to the Woody Allen issue. Basically, the media in the US overlooked how the documentary was executed and hailed the execution of Woody Allen. Maybe it would have seemed unfair if I thought he was innocent. And if I thought he was guilty, this text would not have existed, no matter how much Allen v. Farrow is flawed.

I have no problem with the verdict of the American critics on the value of the documentary. The problem is with the way the discourse on Woody Allen’s guilt is built, which tends to condemn not only the contrary opinion, but also the lack of an opinion. And this is where enabling comes into play. I read reviews where the generic and systemic guilt of Hollywood in covering up the abuses of the powerful and/or talented is subtly pushed towards the general public. Reviews where the finger is often pointed to a generic us, sometimes designating men, sometimes the society blinded by celebrity culture, sometimes the cinephiles who apparently have turned their eyes from the abuse towards art. Sometimes it’s a generic them, the big fans of Allen who can no longer avoid the truth after seeing Allen v. Farrow; or the Europeans, who coddled Roman Polanski for so long, and now give Woody Allen a chance to make films unhindered (Rifkin’s Festival’s, his latest film, is an exclusively European production and will probably never be distributed in the US).

From a documentary built on the premise that it cannot be and has no reason to be contradicted, going through this kind of reviews or public opinions, we reach the footnote of the commentaries. The Woody Allen case is a battlefield where several battles are fought at the same time: #MeToo, freedom of expression, cancel culture, white privilege. The alliances are not necessarily the ones you would expect to be; there is, for example, a significant anti-Allen v. Farrow trend, which sees racial implications in the fact that the documentary chooses to believe only the blonde girl (Dylan), but not the Asian children (Soon-Yi and Moses, both accused their adoptive mother of abuse). Division, virulence and whataboutism are predictable and present on both sides. What is shocking is when these comments are directed against the critic in favor of Allen, or just skeptical about the whole thing, who suddenly becomes a monster who defends pedophiles (and what one might reply to an accusation as such that starts with “I as well am a survivor of sexual abuse”?). It’s simply a matter that has to do with the current climate around everything that might come as public discourse (in the age of social media, virtually any discourse), it’s not that Allen v. Farrow invented social polarization, because it didn’t. On the other hand, you can’t help but wonder what kind of definition the film promotes for what “film critic” (or “investigative documentary”) should mean, and implicitly what happens to the examples that deviate from this standard.

Much is being said – and in a manipulative way – in Allen v. Farrow about the fans’ need to see things in black and white. Their idol is immaculate, and those who come with accusations not only lie, but have all sorts of different faults. “I think we rather not know, so that we don’t have to face it”, says one of the critics interviewed at one point. This message – correct and coherent, by the way, and repeated by film critics, experts in child abuse psychology and Ronan Farrow – is illustrated with speeches given by actresses who pay thanks to Woody Allen on various occasions. I’m not a Woody Allen fan, and I have nothing in common with Diane West, Penelope Cruz or Scarlett Johansson, but, I admit, I took it personally. There’s something very personal and in your face in the way the film leaves no room for reflection: if you’re not certain that now you “know” after watching Allen v. Farrow, that means you’ve looked the other way (or worse, you’re an enabler).

But that’s exactly the easy way out (for those who can’t come to a conclusion). Just as it was easy to be on Woody Allen’s side for twenty years (since 1993, when their accusations, evidence, expertise, and court results – all ambiguous – were already on the table), so it became easier to be against him after 2014 (when Dylan Farrow’s editorial-testimony appeared). Even before the release of the HBO series, Woody Allen had run out of defenders (public figures), actors, distributors and financiers (here is a very good analysis that covers all these parameters and the probability that Allen will remain professionally active). The hard way means living with ambiguity, continuing to watch his movies (or not being able to watch them anymore) without having a clear image of him, be it white, or black. Ambiguity does not mean gray. It does not mean “yes, he was a molester, but he also made good movies”. They are two things that do not condition each other. It doesn’t mean we should consider him innocent, nor vice versa. If there’s any chance that the information, intuition, and emotions (which all come together, in a documentary focused on the victim) could push this “I don’t know” to one side or the other, Allen v. Farrow is the last film that could have made things clear.



Andrei Sendrea Andrei Sendrea
Film critic and journalist, UNATC graduate. Andrei Sendrea wrote for LiterNet, Gândul, FILM and Film Menu, and worked as an editor on the "Ca-n Filme" TV Show. In his free time, he works on his collection of movie stills, which he organizes into idiosyncratic categories. At Films in Frame, he writes the Watercooler Wednesdays column - the monthly top of TV shows/series.