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Dylan Farrow's Open Letter to Us

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by Sam Adams
February 2, 2014 10:38 AM
42 Comments
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What's your favorite Woody Allen movie?

That's the haunting question with which the woman once known as Dylan Farrow begins and ends the personal essay published yesterday on Nicholas Kristof's New York Times blog, and which forms the heart of his column today. Like many recent pieces, it's billed as an open letter, but unlike, say, Sinead O'Connor's advice to Miley Cyrus or Juan Luis Garcia's plea for recognition from Spike Lee, Farrow's piece isn't addressed to anyone in particular. At one point, she speaks directly to Diane Keaton, Cate Blanchett, and others who've recently, or persistently, cast their lot with her adoptive stepfather, whom she accuses of sexually assaulting her when she was seven years old. But for the most part, her unspoken addressee is whoever happens to be reading at the time. In other words, she's talking to us.

What happened between Farrow and Allen on August 4, 1992 has been the subject of public debate and legal action, especially since the publication of Maureen Orth's Vanity Fair article detailing a range of behaviors on Allen's part ranging from queasy-making to outright monstrous. Or perhaps it's more accurate to say that the debate lay dormant somewhere in the back of the national consciousness until the Golden Globes tribute to Allen -- and the pointed public reminders from Allen's former romantic partner and his estranged biological son -- pushed it back into the spotlight. 

Earlier this week, Robert Weide, who supervised the creation of the montage accompanying Allen's Globes tribute and spent hours interviewing him for his 2011 film, Woody Allen: A Documentary, posted a detailed, often withering rebuttal on the Daily Beast. The least prejudicial way to read Weide's article is to starts with its third section, the one dealing specifically with Dylan's accusations, since its first two parts are filled with smarmy asides and bad-faith insinuations. (Among other things, Weide casually drops Dylan's new name, which she has avoided using in public.) Weide paints himself as a reluctant warrior, getting dragged into what he variously describes as "the fray" and "the noise" of the debate, as if the question of whether Allen sexually assaulted a seven-year-old is a gossipy inconvenience, and spending several paragraphs detailing Mia Farrow's (real and hypothetical) sexual history before concluding we should "forget the whole damn thing, considering it’s none of our business." 

From a legal, reasonable-doubt standpoint, some of the issues Weide raises are compelling: the in-camera edits to Dylan's homemade deposition, which was recorded by Mia Farrow, who at that point had a well-documented animus towards Allen; the statements by various psychiatrists that Dylan's testimony seemed coached or rehearsed, and contained major inconsistencies. But because prosecutors at the time determined that the stress of a trial would do further harm to Dylan (or, according to Weide, used that as an excuse to hide their lack of conclusive evidence), neither Woody Allen nor Dylan Farrow will have their day in court.

As far as the law is concerned, Woody Allen is innocent, or, more accurately, not guilty. But the court of public opinion is something else, and that's where Dylan and Ronan and Mia Farrow have chosen to make their case. This strikes some as courageous, especially on Dylan's part, and others as slander -- a divide that, as Kristof observed, sadly but predictably tracks with the observer's gender. But there's another ruling to be made, according to criteria that aren't laid down in black and white: Who do you believe? And if you believe Dylan, what do you do with that?

On the one hand, what you or I or anyone not intimately connected with the Farrow and Allen families believes doesn't make a bit of difference. Except, that is, insofar as it affects our future actions, and, in my case, my professional conduct. If I'd read Dylan's letter before I spent an hour in Allen's company two years ago, would I have asked him about it? Would it have made a difference? I found Allen difficult enough to connect with as it was; he came off to me as a deeply private person whose inner self was not available for public scrutiny. For every question I asked, he had a ready answer, often one I'd already read in other interviews, and while he wasn't brusque or uncooperative, it's hard to say I came away with anything other than exactly what he wanted me to get.

Not coincidentally, that's the same feeling I've gotten, to varying degrees, from every one of Allen's films since the controversy erupted in 1992. Husbands and Wives, which was released that year, struck me as a high-water mark, the best of Allen's "serious" films and one of his best, period, and it's one I think he's unlikely to reach again. Some of the movies he's made since are better than others, but with the sole exception of Vicky Christina Barcelona, they're all steeped in the same sour misogyny, at least alienated from if not overtly hostile towards their female characters. Whether or not the brittle psychotic Cate Blanchett plays in Blue Jasmine is modeled on Mia Farrow, she's a hollow shell of a human being, external tics mixed with a dose of contemptuous pity.

The extent to which one can, or should, separate the artist from the art is less a subject for a debate than a question that has to be argued and re-argued with each subsequent work, and each new piece of evidence. As someone who holds that Roman Polanski is still capable of filmmaking genius, I believe no person can be reduced to their worst action (a position, for what it's worth, I hold towards death row inmates as well). But it strains credulity and upends the idea that art is an expression of its creator's soul to think the two can be neatly cleaved from one another. The Polanski who drugged and raped Samantha Gemier is part of the man who directed The Pianist and Carnage, as is the man who fled what he feared, with some reason, would be an unjust prosecution and has lived in legal exile ever since. The extent to which that's reflected in, say, The Ghost Writer or The Ninth Gate, both of which center on men victimized by shadowy conspiracies, is as legitimate a subject of critical exploration as Polanski's experience of the Holocaust.

So it is -- so it has to be -- with Allen, at least for this critic. None of us will ever know exactly what happened between Dylan Farrow and Woody Allen in the summer of 1992 -- at least, not to an ironclad certainty. But that's not the legal standard for guilt, and my own, if I'm honest, is somewhat lower. Who do I believe? Let's put it like this. I've followed what became known as the West Memphis Three case since Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's documentary Paradise Lost was released in 1996. Even more than what took place between Farrow and Allen, what happened in the woods outside West Memphis, Arkansas, where three young boys were tied up, stripped naked, and murdered, will be forever  uncertain. After nearly 20 years of investigation (and three feature-length documentaries), after the initial suspects were jailed and much later set free, Berlinger and Sinofsky cautiously turned their suspicions towards Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of one of the murdered boys. But for me, it's Amy Berg's West of Memphis that landed the decisive blow. 

For the most part, Berg's documentary struck me as flagrantly irresponsible in the zeal with which it presses its case against Hobbs, heedless of repeating the mistakes that led to three likely innocents being jailed in the first place. But then she presents an interview with Hobbs' daughter, Amanda, whose mother has accused her now-ex-husband of molesting her when she was a child. A few seconds with Amanda, who seems as if someone reached into her chest and yanked out her heart, and I felt I knew something terrible had happened in her house. It was enough to convince me that her father was a monster, and that he was capable of anything. I haven't seen Dylan Farrow tell her story, but I've read it, and I'm haunted by the picture that accompanies it. If I believe Amanda Hobbs, why wouldn't I believe her? 

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42 Comments

  • Momma | February 10, 2014 3:04 AMReply

    Whether or not Allen molested his daughter, he clearly used access to his girlfriend's children to groom an impressionable teenage girl, whom he defiled with indecent polaroid pictures. His insistence that their relationship was innocent until she turned 18 doesn't pass the laugh test. So the nicest thing you can say about Allen is that he is a conniving, dishonest, manipulative pervert. That so many people are willing to participate in any movies tied to him after the Soon Yi issue exploded is to their eternal shame.

    I'm glad that Ronan Farrow was (obviously) sired by Frank Sinatra. It pleases me to know Woody Allen's genetic line dies with him.

  • hanalei | February 12, 2014 9:12 PM

    I couldn't agree with you more, "Momma" I am so tired of woody apologists making excuses or worse coming up with reasons why it wasn't indecent of him to have this relationship with Soon Yi. Are you kidding? If they really believe that we as a culture are in big trouble.

  • question | February 6, 2014 6:25 PMReply

    Why is it the thumbnail for this article titles it "Why I Believe Dylan Farrow"? Decided to feign a lack of bias at the last minute?

  • croz | February 6, 2014 11:57 AMReply

    What a thoughtful piece! I'm not one to go on child molester witch hunts, and I've never been a big Allen fan to begin with. But it's hard to dismiss the allegations unless under VERY wishful thinking.

  • Lou | February 3, 2014 11:52 PMReply

    The thing that gets me so worked up about this case--aside from the upsetting details of Dylan's open letter--is that nobody will admit that they want Woody Allen to be innocent of these charges because they just really enjoy his films. I can't help but think that if this was, say, a politician they weren't especially fond of, they wouldn't be so quick to bend over backwards in their quest for absolution.

  • Incremental Jones | February 3, 2014 9:11 PMReply

    It's frustrating and sad reading tweets and comments sections on this issue. Some people just want to take sides on this subject regardless of the facts. So many absolutely insist Woody Allen must be a child molester because he married his daughter and if anyone corrects them with the facts that Soon-Yi is actually Mia and Andre Previn's adopted daughter they continue to assert she was Allen's daughter. Since they can't continue with "adopted" or "step" they fabricate she was his "de facto" daughter, despite Farrow's claim in her memoir that Allen spent little time with her kids. Some have even tweeted their anger at being sent the link to the Daily Beast article which they insist is biased because, well, it argues the side they not only don't want to hear but don't want to believe exists. It's this kind of simplemindedness and disconnect from reality that allows children to be convinced of anything. No wonder they are so ready to relate to Dylan. Seven year old Dylan.

  • Momma | February 10, 2014 3:18 AM

    Yes, it's so much nicer sounding to acknowledge that Woody Allen was banging his long-time girlfriend's 18 year old daughter, and that this came to light after Mia Farrow discovered the naked polaroids Allen had taken of Soon Yi. But yes, you just keep on believing that Allen maintained a friendly, wholesome relationship with the teenaged Soon Yi until she turned 18, when suddenly and spontaneously, the relationship blossomed into something sexual.

    All across America, perverts worm their way into children's lives by professing love for the children's mother, to gain access to the children. That Allen was neither an adoptive nor step parent to the teenaged Soon Yi makes it not one shred less creepy. Does that make him guilty of molesting his 7 year old adopted daughter? No, but Allen's credibility is shot to hell, and while Dylan's claims were insufficient to result in a criminal conviction doesn't mean Allen should enjoy a position of respectability in polite society.

  • It's hard | February 6, 2014 6:26 PM

    It's hard to take someone seriously when they spell words as enuf and b4. This isn't twitter.

  • seen u around | February 6, 2014 7:36 AM

    He spent enuf time w/ the kids & her so that 2 of Mia's sons, who she adopted b4 her relationship with Woody, approached him with the hope he would become their emotional and legal father.

    That's in Mia's memoirs.

  • FlackOps | February 3, 2014 11:03 AMReply

    Molesters feed on people doubting the victim and go to great measure to foment that doubt. Want proof? Check out this email exchange between me and the guy who molested me when I was a kid. flackops (dot) com.

  • Owsler | February 3, 2014 9:41 AMReply

    This is so grubby. While I appreciate this is an open letter to the public, surely it's better to step aside and agree it has nothing to do with any of us.

  • Crazyxcrazy | February 2, 2014 9:08 PMReply

    Amazing this has started hitting the press again. i'm sure it has nothing to do with his films making money now.....

    Thedailybeast article is pretty damning on the Farrows.

  • Lou | February 3, 2014 11:48 PM

    And the Daily Beast article was written by whom? A friend/associate of Woody Allen. We get it: You LOVE Woody Allen. Your vociferous defense of him in this comment section makes you seem quite unhinged. Really, though, he's just a movie director. That's all. You, and the rest of us, will survive without "Annie Hall" and "Manhattan."

  • Phillip Kelly | February 2, 2014 8:48 PMReply

    You were haunted by the photo. Why do you think they chose that photo? So you would be haunted. Do you really think they were going to choose photo in which she was smiling happily? Anyone who reads the piece needs to see her as a victim. That's where the power comes from.

    And Weide's article isn't full of "smarmy asides". It clearly states facts that point to something equally as unsavory going on as child molestation, but a mother willing to use her child to get back at a lover. I've done the research myself, and you'll find all the things he said to have been reported on back when this originally occurred. So, why can't "public opinion" accept facts. Why does opinion fight facts? That's the question we should be asking.

  • FP | February 2, 2014 7:48 PMReply

    Allen won multiple awards for Midnight In Paris two years ago. The Farrow clan had many more reasons to bring this up then if the idea was to hurt Allen. The PBS documentary came out around then. Allen was in the media spotlight far more then than today, with only his lead actress gaining traction for his latest film.

    The difference between then and today? Ronan Farrow's debut TV show airs in 3 weeks. This offensive started with Ronan and his mother the night of the Golden Globe Awards, and has continued the same weekend as he appeared on HBOs Bill Maher show, as her published account 20 years later.

    What was settled in its criminal basis by her mother 20 years ago, is now dredged up conveniently timed? That alone leaves me less inclined to believe what's happening. Irrespective of when Farrow's NYT piece was published, this is, was, and will forever be a private matter that has been dragged out into the public for mass consumption for convenient timing, even if it's just to stick another dagger in Woody during awards season. If Mia Farrow was so concerned for her daughter and any future daughters Allen would have, as he did, then where was that concern when it mattered? If Allen is the monster he is purported to be, Mia Farrow's decision then has led to a degradation of two families, as now SoonYi Previn will forever be questioned and whispered for what she may be allowing in her home. If he's a monster, why was he given reprieve by the one person who could have ended his monstrous behavior?

    But who cares? Ronan has a new show on MSNBC!

  • Ishmael | February 3, 2014 3:10 AM

    Very well said FP. My final thoughts are that Mia Farrow seems to leave a trail of toxicity wherever she roams. I can only hope that her poison does not leave more of her children in ruin or worse.

  • Jon | February 2, 2014 7:45 PMReply

    Why do we keep trying people in the court of public opinion?

  • Ishmael | February 2, 2014 6:00 PMReply

    Woody Allen was never married to Mia Farrow. Can people please stop being willfully blind and misstating the facts. The fact most interesting to me is the truth that Mia Farrow still defends and holds in high regard two convicted child molesters; the director who made her famous (Roman Polanski) and her own brother (who is now in jail for repetitive child molestation). I guess in Mia's twisted mind those two guys were nicer child molesters, hence do not deserve our derision. Otherwise, one must assume that only child molesters whom she is having sex with are bad. Moreover, Farrows' adopted children are dying left and right, but she is silent about them, offering no insight whatsoever that would shed light on their ailments nor their short lives. Oddly, her deceased children have never made their association with their famous mother public knowledge, even confounding neighbors who were totally unaware of their relationship to Mia Farrow. Something is certainly rotten in Denmark, and Sam Adams is clearly Danish.

  • Julie | February 2, 2014 4:46 PMReply

    Oh God, this is so raw, an ongoing open wound, and it strikes at most women; women who were once children who suffered overt, and covert abuse, by fathers, brothers, friends of the family, and trusted pillars of our society. I know, it happened to me too. I

    It makes every woman who brought a new man into her home, where she had children, who were prey, cringe in fear and self-doubt. Could it be that it happened in my home too they ask themselves? If they have any conscience at all.

    It makes me sick too. Dylan wants to destroy him, in the place where it hurts him most--just like he did to her. Payback is a bitch-and so is child abuse, so be it.

    What you need to know is--that entertainment world is a different country; a place where rampant desire for "artistic" success supercedes everything. The inhabitants let evil trump families, it happens all the time, just look at the divorce rate. Most of of the people we venerate, don't know their children, or care about what happens to them. Very very few of the people we put on pedestals give one small damn for the lives of real life children-their own or any one else's. Dylan gives us one small look into the window where evil dwells.

    This is the real tale of success and "art"!

  • Crazyxcrazy | February 2, 2014 9:24 PM

    Wow such an ill informed load of bullshit.

    STOP PROJECTING!!!

  • diana | February 2, 2014 2:36 PMReply

    No one wants these claims to be true. but to push them aside and say that you have a feeling that it isn't true is a triumph for all abusers. And I'm sorry, but men will side with men especially famous talented men. NO ONE knows and it is absolutely wrong to assume that "Woody" Allen did not bring harm to this little girl, especially since he ended up marrying his wife's adopted daughter. Maybe he had to "make good" on his advances with Sun-Yi. Huh? Think about it.

  • aa999 | February 6, 2014 7:40 AM

    also siding w/ woody.r professional internet reputation managers

  • Incremental Jones | February 2, 2014 2:47 PM

    I'm sorry but this sexist notion that this issue divides along gender lines is ridiculous. Look at all the actresses who have worked with Allen over the years, many were sitting at a table together during the Golden Globe awards.

  • Manuel | February 2, 2014 2:27 PMReply

    The question, whether Allen has abused Dylan Farrow in the past or not has to be asked and not to be forgotten. He has two adopted daughters with Soon-Yi now, it's important for THEM.

  • Crazyxcrazy | February 2, 2014 9:22 PM

    Do you think the authorities just had out kids like hotdogs at a quick-e-mart?

  • Incremental Jones | February 2, 2014 12:28 PMReply

    In our defense, this is the first time Dylan has publicly addressed these events since they happened 22 years ago when she was 7. None of us knew until Woody's biological son Ronan Farrow's recent tweet that she still made these claims as an adult. As far as the public was concerned the molestation charges were investigated, found to be unmerited, and assumed to be a ploy in an ugly child custody battle. We all breathed a sigh of relief that at least that part of the story was untrue and that was the end of it. All we had to deal with was Woody having an affair with and later marrying Mia Farrow and Andre Previn's adopted daughter Soon-Yi, who was 30+ years younger. About the same age difference as between Mia Farrow and Frank Sinatra, whom she now claims may or may not have fathered Ronan while she was in a long term relationship with Allen. (Sigh. The Farrows certainly don't make this easy.)

    The molestation scandal was 22 years ago. Dylan knows that. Emma Stone would have been 3 or 4 years old at the time so blaming her today for something that has been out of the public eye for 22 years is especially disingenuous. Dylan proceeds from the assumption we all know Woody Allen is a child molester and don't care, which is false. It also makes it difficult to hold her accountable without being accused of being indifferent or insensitive to her claims. Deliberate or not, that's a nasty twist.

    Robert Weide claims Woody's formerly estranged son Moses Farrow is now estranged from Mia and has a renewed relationship with Woody and Soon-Yi while using words like "seeing the reality" and "brainwashing" in reference to the molestation charges. Now we need an open letter from Moses. Or maybe we don't. Maybe this should stop being a public drama until somebody actually goes to prison.

    Dylan is a victim, of either Woody Allen or Mia Farrow, and now we're all being victimized by this group of abnormals in what has become a global Rorschach test. Where you can't even not take sides without being accused of taking a side.

  • fuck offsks | February 6, 2014 7:43 AM

    soon yi is woody's de facto step daughter & sister of his children.

    Mia was w/ woody for 12 years and became her partner when soon yi was 8.

    Their affair started when she was a senior in high school according to the memoir you quote as reliable above, in your quest to slander mia.

  • Letta | February 2, 2014 3:43 PM

    "About the same age difference as between Mia Farrow and Frank Sinatra, whom she now claims may or may not have fathered Ronan while she was in a long term relationship with Allen. (Sigh. The Farrows certainly don't make this easy.)"

    Mia and Frank were not connected by "family" or any familial ties. There is a big difference.

  • jennifer | February 2, 2014 12:16 PMReply

    The thing is, if Dylan Farrow was coached to believe that she had been abused (which is also a possibility) at a sensitive age, she could suffer the same ill effects as if she had been. I was completely willing to take her word after reading her article - until, that is, it came out in The Beast article that one of the other Farrow children has become estranged from his mother and accuses her of "brainwashing" the children during the custody battle. Moreover, caregivers report feeling uneasy about the accusations or being leaned on. I was a nanny, and I would never have betrayed a child in my care. Furthermore, therapists and doctors would have either had to have been negligent or outright lying in order for Allen not to have been recommended for conviction. No matter which way you shake this situation, someone is lying. I tend to believe victims, and I do believe that Dylan Farrow believes her own story. It could be a true story, but it could also be a story that was embedded in her memory as a child by a woman who was deeply hurt. I am a woman, for the record. I believe in innocent until proven guilty and I believe in facts and likelihoods. I find it easier to believe that a woman whose husband just ran off with her daughter would coach her other daughter to make abuse allegations (or perhaps enhance smaller abusive acts - creepy lap-smelling - into major ones), than I do to believe that another of Farrow's sons, a team of therapists and a couple of nannies were lying. Not to mention that Allen passed a lie detector, while Mia Farrow wouldn't take one. I am tired of people, moreover, conflating the merely creepy Soon-Yi situation with child abuse. It's not. If only people were this willing to pile onto proven rapists of adult women instead of labeling their victims as sluts.

  • bohmer | February 2, 2014 9:16 PM

    You said everything I would have to say about the situation. If you accept the fact of this possibility, every pieces of the puzzle seems to fall into place. IMO.

  • makemyday | February 2, 2014 12:08 PMReply

    Never doubted her story from the beginning. So sad the system failed her and allowed that pedophile to continue his disgusting behavior. Soon-Yi you are a disgrace to all adoptees around the world. You and your filthy nasty ugly husband will rot in shame.

  • Crazyxcrazy | February 2, 2014 9:21 PM

    How do you know he's guilty? because he's rich and famous? or you don't like him?

    Idiot

  • Pamela Fye | February 2, 2014 12:06 PMReply

    Ya, like why would she make that up and have that be her life ?

  • Crazyxcrazy | February 2, 2014 9:20 PM

    various reasons. read more of the above.

  • David Glassman | February 2, 2014 11:51 AMReply

    Notice the Farrow clan always has something very derogatory to say about Woody right around Oscar voting deadlines. I am not one to blame ANY victims, but the Farrows are not exactly the Cleaver family. All of this is a well-timed PR smear campaign masterminded by Mia Farrow, who is totally off her rocker.

  • DB | February 2, 2014 5:50 PM

    So, for you to accept her story as true, she and her family have to be like the Cleavers? Abuse and the denial of that abuse hardly makes one sane.

  • Jeanne | February 2, 2014 11:30 AMReply

    How do we respond?? Really?? Exactly what would he have to do for us to stop awarding him and paying to see his films?? Take a look at the plot of "Manhattan", his marriage to his step-daughter and the fact that Dylan's revelation is so clearly part of his pattern. Excuse any behavior because he makes money and some think he is creative??? Oh please...

  • Crazyxcrazy | February 2, 2014 9:19 PM

    here's a moron without any facts. What gives you the right to say he's guilty?

  • James D. | February 2, 2014 11:11 AMReply

    Annie Hall is probably my favorite, as boring as that may be.

  • Richgadget | February 2, 2014 11:08 AMReply

    I think we should leave the situation as to be honest there is no actual proof that Woody Allen actually did it. Not only that but selling your story in Vanity Fair is hardly the right sort of thing for her to be doing. It all smells like slander to me.

  • Jon | February 2, 2014 7:43 PM

    When you make the statement "rape" you are guilty of slander. It's not a choice between one or the other.

  • Julie | February 2, 2014 4:49 PM

    On a scale? slander vs child rape??Hmm, I know where my priorities are.

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