When I first met my future wife, one of the things we quickly found in common was that we both enjoyed Woody Allen movies. Over the years, we watched perhaps half of his movies together, until he started a public relationship with Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn. I was appalled by this, even though he wasn’t her adopted father, and technically it was not incest, I felt he had crossed the line regarding his responsibility as an adult and a ‘parent’, whatever the legalities. I stopped watching his films for some period.
Later, I began to watch him anew, having lost the moral outrage I felt at the time. With Dylan Farrow’s recent letter detailing her accusations of sexual abuse by Woody Allen when she was a child, it revived my memories of his lack of conscience regarding a child entrusted to his care.
Did Woody Allen really abuse her when she was seven years old? So she says, as well as her mother and one of her brothers. Was she instead coached by an angry mother? So says Allen, and another of her brothers. Sadly, there are many examples of sexual abusers who, when accused, accuse the accuser and get away with it; equally sad, there are many examples of false accusation of sexual abuse of children fueled by the anger of a spurned spouse or a neglected child. It seems impossible for the general public to determine which of these two possibilities is true.
Quotation, n. The act of repeating erroneously the words of another.
Certainly the legal authorities have not been able to do so. The facts are disputed, and have often been publicly distorted, used by various parties for their own purposes. Connecticut authorities who pursued the investigation of Dylan’s accusations when she was seven produced a medical and forensic evaluation that concluded that there was no evidence of child abuse, and that Dylan was not credible as an accuser. The judge who oversaw the case rejected the investigation team’s report as not well-founded, yet exonerated Allen due to insufficient evidence, while castigating him for inappropriate behavior. The case has been cloudy from the outset. Allen has remained the adoptive father of two other of Mia Farrow’s children; authorities have found no evidence to support him being removed as such, despite extensive legal efforts to do so.
Jessica Valenti, in the Nation, reminded me of these conundrums, and reminded me of the basic reason I had stopped watching Woody Allen earlier in my life: That Woody Allen repeatedly violated his clear moral obligations by taking his underage adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn as a lover. For Jessica Valenti, the emphasis is on his violation of convention, and she characterizes any more nuanced look at Woody’s behavior as defending Woody Allen, or choosing comfort over truth.
As so often has happened with the case, Valenti did not seem to be aware, as I was not until recently, that Soon-Yi was not Allen’s adopted child, and that she was not underage, being already at least 18 years old when they began their relationship. These facts have made the moral calculus of his initial relationship less severe for me, although it still seems inappropriate.
Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn. Attrib: David Shankbone, CC BY 3.0.
I think Soon-Yi has the last word on whether Allen hurt her with his behavior. The moral rules that Allen ignored so many years ago with Soon-Yi were there to protect Soon-Yi as an impressionable teenager. Yet the fact that he and Soon-Yi remain married after 21 years, and have raised two adopted children themselves, is perhaps the most important circumstance to consider in judging how Woody behaved with Soon-Yi. Tying the accusations of Dylan Farrow to Allen’s behavior regarding Soon-Yi is not fair to anyone involved.
Regarding Dylan and her recent very public accusations, it is clear that Dylan has suffered; what is not clear is whether or not she suffered sexual abuse at the hands of Woody Allen. Whatever Woody’s flaws, he has not been shown to be a monster. If it is demonstrated that Dylan’s accusations are true, I would re-evaluate my perception of Woody’s character. Until that happens, I will continue to afford Woody’s films the consideration I give to any artist.