When you ask anyone their favorite Woody Allen film, odds are they’ll say Annie Hall. When it was released, in 1977, as far as we know Allen hadn’t committed any crime beyond egregious pretention. So people don’t seem to mind pledging their allegiance to it – because it’s protected by time. It’s only around the arrival of Husbands and Wives, in 1992, that favoring Allen seemed to become a little tricky. That was the year Vanity Fair published an exposé in which it was alleged that the Oscar winner had sexually abused his 7-year-old adopted daughter Dylan Farrow. That was the year we thought that Allen the famous filmmaker would fall from his pedestal.
But he didn’t. From Manhattan Murder Mystery in 1993 all the way to Blue Jasmine 20 years later, Allen has remained a Hollywood icon with the whiff of scandal occasionally wafting up around – but never over powering – his name. In the wake of his latest Oscar nomination, however, Allen the famous filmmaker has lost his footing. Writing a first person account of the alleged abuse she suffered at her father’s hands, Dylan has moved the spotlight from Oscar onto the man behind it.
In “An Open Letter From Dylan Farrow,” which appeared on columnist Nicholas Kristof’s blog in The New York Times on Saturday afternoon, the author starts by asking, “What’s your favorite Woody Allen movie?” The question book-ends the piece, illustrating how Allen’s fame envelopes and overshadows the sordid details of his life. In his prologue to Dylan’s letter, Kristof writes that “the root issue here isn’t celebrity but sex abuse.” But it’s celebrity that has persistently camouflaged this particular instance of abuse.
Recalling the VF profile which first detailed her relationship with Allen, Dylan describes how her father allegedly sexually abused her in the early ‘90s in the attic of their house while she played with her brother’s toy train. “He talked to me while he did it, whispering that I was a good girl, that this was our secret, promising that we’d go to Paris and I’d be a star in his movies,” she writes. Even at that moment, with only a little girl to confront him, Allen leaned on Hollywood for protection. And he continued to do so amidst her allegations. As Dylan writes, “sexual abuse claims against the powerful stall more easily. There were experts willing to attack my credibility. There were doctors willing to gaslight an abused child.”
Allen continued to have power over Dylan even when she was out of his reach. She writes about being “haunted” after he failed to be convicted and subsequently feeling guilty, becoming scared of men, self-harming and developing an eating disorder. “That torment was made worse by Hollywood,” she writes. “All but a precious few (my heroes) turned a blind eye. Most found it easier to accept the ambiguity, to say, ‘who can say what happened,’ to pretend that nothing was wrong. Actors praised him at awards shows. Networks put him on TV. Critics put him in magazines. Each time I saw my abuser’s face – on a poster, on a t-shirt, on television – I could only hide my panic until I found a place to be alone and fall apart.”
But then came the Golden Globe awards last month, which two of Dylan’s family members used to recall the man behind the fame. After Allen was awarded the Cecil B DeMille award at the ceremony on Jan. 12, Dylan’s brother Ronan tweeted, “Missed the Woody Allen tribute - did they put the part where a woman publicly confirmed he molested her at age 7 before or after Annie Hall?” Prior to that, right before the award aired, his mother, Mia, tweeted, “Time to grab some ice cream & switch over to #GIRLS.”
No doubt, their well-timed tweets galvanized Dylan to speak out in the wake of her father’s subsequent Oscar nomination, which was announced four days later. “For so long, Woody Allen’s acceptance silenced me. It felt like a personal rebuke, like the awards and accolades were a way to tell me to shut up and go away,” she writes. “But the survivors of sexual abuse who have reached out to me – to support me and to share their fears of coming forward, of being called a liar, of being told their memories aren’t their memories – have given me a reason to not be silent, if only so others know that they don’t have to be silent either.”
Dylan blames the cult of celebrity for striking abuse victims dumb by continuing to support people like her dad. “The message that Hollywood sends matters for them,” she writes. As propagators of this message, she names the actors who have continued to work with Allen despite the allegations against him. These include the stars of the Oscar nominated Blue Jasmine – Cate Blanchett, Louis CK, Alec Baldwin – but also Emma Stone, the lead in Allen’s next feature, Magic in the Moonlight, and Allen’s current muse, Scarlett Johansson, as well as his old one, Diane Keaton. “What if it had been your child, Cate Blanchett? Louis CK? Alec Baldwin? What if it had been you, Emma Stone? Or you, Scarlett Johansson?” Dylan asks. “You knew me when I was a little girl, Diane Keaton. Have you forgotten me?”
In so doing, Dylan speaks for Hollywood’s multitude of abuse victims, including child actors like Corey Haim and outsiders like Samantha Geimer. Five years ago, 138 members of the film industry, including Allen, signed a petition requesting that Polish filmmaker Roman Polanski be released from Swiss custody after he was arrested for a 1977 charge that he had raped Geimer, then 13. Dylan asks such people to express some empathy in the name of the victims, not just the alleged perpetrators. “[I]magine your seven-year-old daughter being led into an attic by Woody Allen. Imagine she spends a lifetime stricken with nausea at the mention of his name. Imagine a world that celebrates her tormenter,” she writes. “Are you imagining that? Now, what’s your favorite Woody Allen movie?”
In response to Dylan’s letter, Allen declined to comment to Kristof. And the Times columnist admits that what actually occurred between the 78-year-old filmmaker and his daughter can never be known. “Yet the Golden Globes sided with Allen, in effect accusing Dylan either of lying or of not mattering,” he writes. “That’s the message that celebrities in film, music and sports too often send to abuse victims.”
Last October, Dylan spoke on the record for the first time to Vanity Fair’s Maureen Orth, the same reporter who popped the lid on the Allen abuse allegations 20 years earlier. “I’m scared of him, his image,” Dylan said at the time. And though she was referring to Allen himself, her use of the word “image” is salient, because it’s Allen’s image that Hollywood is so intent on protecting even amidst allegations of child sex abuse. In a town like that, Dylan is not the only one who should be scared. We should be too.
Correction: a previous version of this article referred to Dylan Farrow as Woody Allen's step-daughter.