The Woody Allen Scandal: A Response To The Readers



Woody-Allen-Manhattan2Photo: Courtesy of MGM.
Three weeks ago, I published an op-ed titled The Woody Allen Story We Need To Stop Forgetting. Brought to a head by Ronan Farrow's tweet the night of the Golden Globes, I was grateful for the opportunity to voice my own opinion on this situation and to have been heard by so many. I've closely monitored the response in the comments, social media, and my own inbox. The main thing I deeply sought in writing the essay was to elicit real, thoughtful consideration by exposing my own. So, if you're angry, great. If you're ambivalent, great. Either way, it means you've thought. I'm sure you've also read the myriad similar op-eds on this topic, but especially Dylan Farrow's own brave and gutting response on Saturday.

Among readers, three distinct groups seem to have emerged: those who were on the same page, those who thought I was way too easy on Allen, and those who thought I was leaping to unfair conclusions and sought to correct me. It's to those last two groups that I'm writing this response.

First, for the readers who thought I was too easy on Allen — and myself — by concluding that, yes, I believe one can appreciate an artist's work and not the artist: You're right. If I was a truly brave and better person, I suppose I would go further than writing an essay. I would, perhaps, organize some kind of group that took action and circulated petitions and attacked all the celebrities that support the man I believe is a pedophile who got off the hook. But, frankly, I don't know how much I'd accomplish and doubt I'd be very good at it. But, I'm good at this. I'm a writer and I know the power of the written word is real. My little Internet essay wasn't the Magna Carta, but it reached many people who had never heard this story before. That, I think, counts as something of a contribution, meager though it may be.

And, I must add one caveat to the original piece. I think, now, I might be done with Woody Allen for good. I cannot excise the formative years I spent absorbing his work with love and profound admiration. I think that's why it took me 10 years between first reading about Dylan and finally writing this piece. But, after writing it, I know I'll never be able to watch Annie Hall or Hannah & Her Sisters the same way again. I'm both utterly sad for the loss and regretful of the years I allowed myself the joy of those films, knowing what I did but conveniently forgetting it. I do know I won't be financially contributing to Allen's career going forward. A drop in an ocean (maybe 1/16 of a drop in an ocean), but it's another personal stand I can take. There is something about speaking your beliefs aloud, and having them be heard, that makes them stronger.

I still believe it's possible to consider an artist's work on its own, but I do not believe that means we should judge the artist solely by that art. That, I think, is cowardly — a kind of willful ignorance we voluntarily sign up for. With Woody Allen, in particular, I believe it's important to consciously separate the two. No other living artist is so utterly conflated with his onscreen persona. Alvy, Isaac, Lenny, Mickey — all these characters are variations on the same, and after 40 years of falling in love with them, we've easily assumed that Woody is the same guy, because, y'know, they wear the same glasses. Wherever you land on this subject, that's one "fact" that we must acknowledge is false. For what is Annie Hall if not a magical retelling of life and love, complete with time-travel, animation, and leaps across the fourth wall? Why wouldn't its star be a fantasy as well?

Now, for the other group. To those who responded to the piece by saying it was uninformed, unfair, and slanderous: You're wrong. You may absolutely disagree with my opinion, and I can take that — even embrace. What I cannot take is being accused of writing an unresearched, irresponsible essay based on nothing but my own icky feelings and few cursory Google searches. That's where you are profoundly wrong, and, frankly, quite offensive and ignorant. Though I noted in the essay that I've been well-read on this subject for a decade, and cited reputable sources (many of which also included quotes in Allen's favor), many friends, readers, Twitter followers, and even colleagues have attempted to call me out as a fool or a pot-stirrer, making up facts or "taking Mia's side, when everyone knows she's crazy." Dozens of people have also directed me to Bob Weide's piece in The Daily Beast.

To be clear: Both mine and Weide's posts were opinion pieces. While mine was up-front about my own subjective point of view, Weide chose to take a more defensive tack, laying out the facts as he sees them, as if in evidence to a jury. I appeared with him three weeks ago on HuffPost Live to discuss the renewed interest in this scandal, and his stance was much the same. As he said that day, "For every thing that is thought about Woody with regard to that case, I can give you something that can contradict it. You might be able to give me something that will contradict that and I can do the same and we can go back and forth." But, I'm not going to get into a fact-for-fact shouting match with Weide, or any of the readers who have tried to engage me in that. Neither Weide nor I was there. So, whatever we write about it, it's just our opinion. I am, however, alarmed by the number of people who seem to have taken his piece as gospel. Millions shout, "How can you believe Mia Farrow, the bitter woman-scorned?!" I wonder, how can you believe Allen's friend and director of his authorized documentary? Because he used bullet points? Because he said his facts are the facts? Because he has an Emmy?

For me, it comes down to this: When a child comes forward and says this happened, I believe that child. But, I don't fault anyone who thinks otherwise. We all have our own experiences and knowledge to draw on — that's why each opinion is equal and worthy of consideration.

There are many more compelling facts, and you can find them for yourself. If not, look simply to Occam's razor. What's more likely: An otherwise respectable woman systematically brainwashes her child, meticulously plants vague physical evidence, then forces her entire family to live this bizarre and terrible lie for the rest of their lives? Or, that he did it?

That half of Hollywood rushes to Allen's defense, while the other half looks away in silence, is not unusual, but perhaps this renewed attention will begin to change that. If anything, it could serve as an object lesson for the next time a scandal forces us to take another look at one of our dearest icons.

When I published my piece, the only change my editors asked me to make was on the final passage, which said, "I believe Alvy Singer is an underdog. I believe Woody Allen is a child molester." Originally, "I believe" was not there, but it should have been. While my beliefs are firm, I must cede that they are just that — my beliefs. Bob Weide skipped that part. But, that doesn't make his opinion more valid or supported than mine. It just betrays his own ego, and not a little bit of irresponsible journalism. I don't blame him for wanting to stick up for his friend. In fact, I'm glad to see someone of his stature jumping into the conversation and keep the dialogue going.

That's the most important part. The longer we keep having this conversation the more people will need to examine their own thoughts on this topic. The more voices that join in, the harder it will be for others to stay silent. What's crucial is that we, as people and consumers, don't glibly brush aside that which we don't want to think about. We have to be willing to question whether we've been misled, if our opinions should change, or if we stand firm. And, wherever we land, we must recognize that our opposers have just as much a right as we to stand on a soapbox and shout to all who will listen. We should listen, too.