I’ve been a Woody Allen fan for most of my life. While he’s made plenty of bad movies (his “Irrational Man” was #2 on my Worst Movies Of 2015 list), his filmography contains more good movies that any other director I can think of, his iconic standup comedy album from the 1960s is nothing less than a classic, and his appearances on TV talk shows from those days still make me smile whenever I see one on YouTube.
While I’ve enjoyed a great deal of what Woody’s done professionally, I couldn’t care less about his personal life, his marriage to Soon-Yi, or the repeated attempts by Ronan Farrow to draw attention back to the accusations made by his sister, Dylan Farrow, of Woody sexually assaulting her when she was four years old — a charge that was investigated and dismissed by the authorities decades ago. Yet that chapter of his life was regurgitated recently when Ronan published an op-ed in the Hollywood Reporter demanding that, with yet another Woody movie opening, the press must invoke his sister’s accusation each and every time it has an opportunity to question him — and that not doing so is a dishonor to all victims of sexual assault.
Now we have a response to Ronan’s piece, not from Woody, but from the man who made an “American Masters” documentary about him in 2011, Robert Weide. In rebutting many of Ronan’s points, Weide invokes other cases that Ronan hasn’t made the same demands about:
- their mother, Mia Farrow, issued a statement of support for Roman Polanski after he was accused of having sex with a 13-year-old girl;
- her lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, was accused of having sex with an underaged girl;
- his brother, Moses, claimed he was beaten by Mia as a child.
Weide also invokes the name of another famous comedian embroiled in a sexual assault scandal:
For starters, Cosby has had, what… 50? 60? accusers, many with strikingly similar stories to tell. I assure you, this disturbs me as much as it does you. In your father’s case, there was a single accusation concerning a single alleged incident, raised by an ex-lover during a contentious custody battle. Obviously, the accusation of a single crime should warrant the same attention as a spate of serial abuses. But how can you brush aside the obvious fact that Cosby’s accusers, until very recently, never had their day in court, when your mother, on your sister’s behalf, had months in court as well as unlimited and well-utilized media access? Furthermore, how many of Cosby’s accusers would give anything to have an extensive court-ordered criminal inquiry into their case, to prove the validity of their claims? As you know full well, your mother and sister had the benefit of just such a review. The Connecticut State Police ordered an investigation by the The Child Sexual Abuse Clinic of the Yale/New Haven Hospital, whose six-month inquiry (which included medical and psychological examinations) concluded, decisively and unambiguously, that Dylan had not been molested. (The Yale-New Haven investigation summary is actually available on line for anyone to read.) Although the custody case raged on, criminal charges were never brought against your father.
Let me repeat that: Woody Allen wasn’t tried and found “not guilty,” nor was he exonerated by way of some obscure legal loophole. Rather, a thorough six-month investigation by a highly-regarded team of professionals, whose job it is to determine whether there is credible evidence to charge someone of a crime, concluded that the incident never happened. Your father was never tried for any crime, because no charges were ever brought against him. Yet you’re essentially asking the media to treat him as a pariah who never faced up to the charge, or was convicted of a crime and managed to negotiate his way out of a proper sentencing. For someone with your background in law, that’s a very interesting position to take.
Weide goes on:
It’s not difficult to get the media to follow your lead and rehash your accusations every time Woody Allen has a new film coming out or is presented with another award. Since celebrity scandal is the ultimate click bait, it’s in everyone’s best interests (except your father’s) to keep this story going for as long as possible. But what if serious journalists start resenting being told what to believe, what questions to ask? What happens if they start to feel they’re being played? What if they conclude that your call for responsible journalism may actually be the opposite?
So far, your family has successfully converted a number of celebrities to your cause: Susan Sarandon, Lena Dunham, Sarah Silverman, and others have issued anti-Woody statements or Tweets, so congratulations on that. Meanwhile, you and your sister call out by name any number of actors who have reserved judgment and chosen to work with your father (many of whom have received death threats following your family’s missives, which doesn’t exactly endear them to your position). You say it hurts your sister every time one of her heroes like Louis C.K. or Miley Cyrus works with your father. Is the inference that if her favorite actors stopped working with him, this would bring her some happiness? If investors stopped financing his films, and studios stopped distributing them, would this finally bring healing and closure to your family? I don’t doubt that you love your sister and want her to feel empowered by speaking out, and with the encouragement of you and her mother and other loved ones, she’s done just that. But if the message here is that her sense of closure is dependent on the opinions of untold millions of strangers who aren’t eager to take her position in this matter (or perhaps any position), isn’t that message the very opposite of empowerment?
And even if you succeeded at riding Woody Allen out of town on a rail, how does that empower all the abused women and children you say you’re standing up for? What can you or I offer those in need of healing who don’t have a newsworthy celebrity in the equation – those who aren’t offered editorial space in the Hollywood Reporter?
Read Weide’s full piece here.
Previously on Harris Online…
- My conversation with David Evanier about his Woody Allen biography (11/7/15).
- My full review of Woody Allen’s movie, “An Irrational Man” (8/3/15).
- My thoughts on Woody Allen’s claim that he’s never seen anything online (5/19/15).
- Rare footage of Woody Allen doing his “Moose” standup routine (10/25/13).