Did you date a guy in college who worshipped Woody Allen’s films by calling it ‘real cinema’? I sure did. His movies always felt like a different category in the required masculinity curriculum, but part of it nonetheless. The heroes were the ultimate ‘nice guys’ entitled to women’s bodies and attention. Allen v. Farrow, HBO’s four-part mini docuseries, gives us a glimpse at the part of Woody Allen’s life that remained largely obscured by his art.
The Me Too movement has been slow to come after Woody Allen at first. His abuse has been made well known by Mia Farrow, his ex-partner of twelve years, back in the early 1990s. By the time the Me Too movement became the center of Hollywood’s discourse in 2017, propelled by, among other people, Mia and Woody’s biological son Ronan Farrow and his investigative work, people had already chosen sides in the Allen v. Farrow scandal. Hollywood has moved on to continue praising the genius of Woody Allen for decades to come.
Allen v. Farrow aims to show its audience exactly what has been swept under the rug in this particular Hollywood family scandal and how it was made possible. The miniseries represents exhaustive research on the allegations of Woody’s sexual abuse of Dylan Farrow, the adoptive daughter of Mia and Woody. It consists of interviews with key figures of the Farrow family, including Mia, Dylan, other siblings, and family friends. Woody and his wife Soon-Yi Previn, the adoptive daughter of Mia and her ex-husband Andre Previn, do not appear in the docuseries.
At the very beginning of the series, Dylan opens with, “In the last twenty years, he [Woody] was able to run amok while I was growing up, and I was coping with this through sleepless nights and panic attacks because of one man.” With this, the series sets out to not only tell Dylan’s side of the story but to demonstrate the kind of power that Woody was able to yield when the allegations were made public in 1992. The central question becomes, “how much longer will we prioritize male ‘genius’ over a woman’s voice and life?”.
While constructing the bigger picture consisting of many nuances, the docuseries sometimes tends to drift away from centering the survivor, Dylan, at the heart of its story. The power of the celebrity status is emphasized continuously, as it is shown that (male) celebrities do not only have the upper hand in the court of public opinion but the access to the necessary connections and resources to provide them impunity in the court of law as well. Allen v. Farrow exemplifies how easily instruments that silence the victims of abuse become institutionalized and popularized without proper fact-checking and how celebrities’ legal battles can contribute to that.
A question bound to surface in conversations about artists’ abuse is about separating the art from the artist. The series makes an explicit argument that the art reflects the artist, as multiple journalists and film critics are asked to contextualize Woody’s films. On camera, some of them open up about looking past some disturbing tropes in those films and understanding their own complicity in empowering Woody’s public persona.
The series also turns the mirror back at Hollywood in a montage of accolades that Woody has received from many Hollywood creators throughout his career. The inclusion of younger celebrities, such as Emma Stone, serves to remind us how up until recently, Hollywood has been reluctant to rescind Woody’s status as an insider.
The lack of justice is prevalent in cases of sexual abuse and child abuse. Here, Dylan’s story is, unfortunately, one of many. The redemption her story has now received in public, however, is quite extraordinary as most victims do not have access to highly trained investigative journalists and other resources to tell their story. They continue not being believed, even by their own families and friends. Besides perhaps boycotting Woody Allen’s films, a good takeaway from this docu-series is to grant support and understanding to victims of abuse in our lives, as if their stories too have been thoroughly researched with a clear demonstration of the damage that the misogynistic culture has caused them.
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