What We Need To Talk About When We Talk About Woody Allen

 

Diane Keaton is still talking about Woody Allen. Granted, she’s plugging a book, but back when the media circus was unfolding months back, I sat down and gave it a good think.

I can’t say if my interest in the Woody Allen, Dylan Farrow debacle stems from my great love of film, and his films in particular. They drew me to New York in the first place, where my life would eventually begin as per my maudlin teenage imaginings, but the fondness we may have for his work is quite a separate issue. I identify as a feminist, and following the back-and-forth I found myself quite conflicted indeed.

This round of media interest started with Dylan Farrow’s article in Vanity Fair, and was chased by Mia and Ronan Farrow’s noxious tweets, unleashed by Woody Allen’s nth lifetime achievement award, and made headlines first in Dylan’s open letter on the New York Times website, rebutted by Woody Allen-documentarian Robert B. Weide, that Woody Allen himself responded to, and generating no end of condemning, condoning, and everything in between. (The final word, thus far, has been Dylan Farrow’s Hollywood Reporter response to her father’s defense.)After being quite unsatisfied with everything I have read about it, and feeling quite shameful indeed (the term “media circus” comes to mind, as what had seemed to have begun as serious, issue-based reportage degenerated into a cesspool of celebrity speculation and obsession rapidly), I went to the source – the custody decision that most of the allegations and assertions are based on.

And this is what I have decided that I think on the matter:

1. It takes great courage for abuse survivors to come forward.
2. Sexual assault is a serious allegation that destroys the lives of the accused, even when it is baseless and completely fabricated, and after the issue has been decided on (or not pursued) by the relevant fact-finders.
3. The legal fall-out of relationship break-downs can get quite ugly indeed, and there are incidents where mothers coerce their children to say things, or begin to believe things, that are damaging and untrue.
4. Sometimes adult-children relationships families go beyond dysfunction squarely into the territory of abuse, and on account of the accuser’s age, the accused’s station in society, or the inconsistencies and instability of memory, they are not believed.

That is as meaningfully as I can arrive at what the truth is, and why we should find this incident and the surrounding accounts of it interesting, not because it’s salacious celebrity tabloid fodder. We need to figure out how to deal with both sides of abuse, the victims and the alleged perpetrators, according each the appropriate amount of credibility and the benefit of the doubt, while we seek out truths that may never surface.

Yes, the timing/circumstances of a number of incidents may shed some doubt on a number of accounts. The alleged sexual abuse took place after a revelation that tore the family apart and what I surmise to be an irrevocable relationship break-down, and it is entirely possible that this family betrayal fueled either maternal machinations (and could well have involved other adult members of the household like tutors and nannies) or the imaginings of a young child. Equally, the fact that Allen’s psychiatrist found his affections and behavior towards the child to be “inappropriate”, requiring him to work towards behavioral change, coupled with Farrow’s mistrust of Allen before the incident occurred, may suggest that the accusations were not completely unfounded. Yes, the dismissal of the expert panel may cast doubt on Allen’s innocence, and imply corruption, as might his refusal of the police polygraph test in favor of one his lawyer arranged, but at the same time, so might the fact that the judge dismissed the only expert opinion as inconclusive in the first place. Perhaps that speaks to lacunae in the legal system as concerns evidence, or ask the question as to whether legal tests can guide judgments of expert opinion and how far they should, but at the end of the day, what was determined in the custody trial was the truth as found by a judge. That was a determination of a custodial issue, and not a criminal one, and for every conclusion we may jump to, there exist plausible explanations to the contrary.

We need to talk about abuse, not the famous people embroiled in scandal. We need to talk about the inconsolable, inexcusable damage incurred by abuse victims and how best we can help them live lives out of the shadow of their abuse and abusers. We need extricate those accused from the aftermath of a charge that they are denied the chance of expunging themselves of once and for all and establish some coherence between these two positions.

 

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Edit: Quadcity Pat, a child-abuse investigator, has written an insightful, balanced post that is worth reading. I didn’t have the privilege of reading it before I wrote this post, but I certainly think it engages the issue far better, and more objectively, than anything else I had come across in my research.