The documentary Allen vs Farrow uses the guise of objectivity to step in a judge and jury
A family matter ? Mia Farrow holding baby Satchel (now Ronan) and Woody Allen holding Dylan Farrow
Writing in The New York Times in 2014, Dylan Farrow asked how it was possible to continue to be a fan of Woody Allen’s movies when confronted with the knowledge that he had sexually abused his adopted daughter when she was just seven years old. A new four-part documentary on the nearly 30-year-old scandal, Allen v. Farrow, asks essentially the same question. It puts the viewer of this documentary in the invidious position of having to either denounce and renounce Allen or be made to feel as if they are disbelieving a victim of sexual abuse because her father is privileged.
Despite the film’s title, which suggests a court case in which both sides have their say before an impartial judge, it is effectively a prosecutorial exercise. The filmmakers are uninterested in balance, in putting forward any view that contradicts or even slightly dissents from the position that Allen was spared a criminal trial and probably conviction only by dint of his fame and influence. No one can question Dylan Farrow’s right to tell her story, to speak of her alleged experience of abuse at the hands of her father. But Allen v. Farrow (available on Disney+ Hotstar) is manipulative precisely because it pretends to be something more objective than, say, Dylan’s open letters in various newspapers. It puts pressure on the viewer to concede that the only ethically-correct choice is to accept Dylan and Mia Farrow’s account of what happened one August day in 1992 without question. And that this same standard cannot be equally applied to the later claims by Moses, also an adopted son of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, that Mia was an abusive parent from a troubled, dysfunctional family.
This is also the claim of Mia’s adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn. Mia found nude polaroids of 21-year-old Soon-Yi in 57-year-old Woody’s apartment while Mia and Woody were still in a relationship and co-parents to several children, including Dylan. (Incidentally, Mia too was decades younger than her previous husbands, Frank Sinatra and Andre Previn, and Soon-Yi and Woody remain by all accounts happily married.) It was several months after Mia’s discovery of Woody’s infidelity with Soon-Yi that he was accused of sexually molesting Dylan. It is a sordid, ugly mess. But Allen was never charged with a crime. Official reports by state institutions argue both that ‘probable cause’ existed to charge Allen and that Dylan could have been either fantasising or coached by Mia to accuse her father.
In the wake of #MeToo, several actors have apologised for working with Allen, while others such as Cate Blanchett, Diane Keaton and Scarlett Johansson have been pilloried for not doing the same. In Allen v. Farrow, Blanchett’s mild observation that Dylan’s accusations are “a family matter” is offered up as a sort of acme of moral cowardice. But acknowledging that the truth is elusive, that sometimes we aren’t in a position to judge, is preferable to the preening outrage of the makers of Allen v. Farrow.
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