Did That Messy Soon-Yi Previn Profile Actually Change Anything?

Photo: Rebecca Smeyne/Getty Images.
Late on Sunday night, New York Magazine published a controversial profile of Soon-Yi Previn, which claimed to upset the narrative that has been put forward for decades about her fraught relationship with adopted mother Mia Farrow and husband Woody Allen.
But after reading the piece, full of salacious details about Previn’s dislike for her mother, insight into how her and Allen’s controversial romance began, and her views on the accusations being levelled against him by biological daughter Dylan Farrow, I don’t feel like my opinion of the situation has changed. In fact, it feels like we remain at the same impasse we were in 26 years ago, when news leaked that Allen was leaving his longtime girlfriend Farrow for Previn.
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It’s the first time in over two decades that the 47-year-old Previn has weighed in on the scandals in her orbit since 1992 – when Farrow discovered nude photographs of the then-21-year-old, taken by Allen, who was then in his 50s. It’s a messy story, and one that has only gotten more complicated in light of the accusations levelled at Allen by Dylan, who claims he molested her when she was 7 years old that same year. (Allen has denied all abuse and molestation allegations. The Connecticut State’s Attorney investigated, but did not press charges, and in 1993, the New York Department of Social Services dropped its inquiry into the matter, citing “no credible evidence.”)
As a result, many complex issues that aren’t necessarily related have been mashed up together in one big family dispute worthy of its own season of Succession, and over the years, have given rise to the following questions: Did Allen, who first met Previn when she was 10 years old, groom her for a relationship? Did he also molest Dylan, an act indicative of a pattern of abusive behaviour? Did Farrow’s alleged neglect of her adopted daughter leave her so desperate for a kind word that she jumped into bed with the first person to pay her any attention? Did Farrow to some extent coach Dylan in what to say in order to exact revenge upon Allen? Some of these could be true, or none of them, or all of them simultaneously — the point is, we don’t know, and this profile does nothing to clear things up.
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Fast-forward nearly a year post-#MeToo, and in light of her husband’s marked decrease in popularity, Previn decides to speak her piece to Daphne Merkin, a reporter who by her own account has “been friends with Allen for over four decades.” The question of whether or not this flies in the face of journalistic integrity is valid. Yes, Merkin’s relationship with her subjects is briefly disclosed, but that doesn’t do much to counter the bitter taste that’s left after reading obsequious descriptions of a man accused of sexually assaulting his daughter. We never find out how Merkin met Allen, nor whether or not she had overcome any misgivings or feelings of her own about the allegations against him.
On the other hand, it’s unclear that anyone else would have gotten the kind of access to Allen and Previn that Merkin does in this piece — although again, that does reinforce the narrative that she was handpicked to get their point across. Mia Farrow, for her part, has told her side of the story in two stories written for Vanity Fair by Maureen Orth, although Orth has never claimed to be friends with her. It doesn’t help that Merkin was also the author of a New York Times op-ed that many took to be dismissive of the #MeToo movement.
There is no inherent problem in hearing from Previn. She’s allowed to share her story, even if it’s not the one we’d like to hear. (The profile does reiterate and solidify the fact that, despite broad misconceptions, Allen never acted as a surrogate father to Previn.) But though the headline promises to introduce us to this woman who has been shrouded in secrecy for so long, the fact is that most of the story is focused on her relationship with Allen — with Allen often weighing in himself. The story describes him sitting next to Previn during many of the interviews conducted, and even features descriptions of their hand holding, presumably meant to endear them to readers as a cute, very much in love couple. Personally, I just found it frustrating, yet another example of Soon-Yi’s voice being stifled by the people around her, even in the one story that purports to allow her to reclaim her voice. (It’s even called “Introducing Soon-Yi Previn.”) The little we do learn of her personality — her wry humour, her strong convictions — is interesting, but it’s lost in the larger story that looms over her.
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The fact that Farrow and Allen’s son Ronan, who has built his career as a journalist exposing the sexual assault patterns of powerful men (including Harvey Weinstein and Les Moonves), has issued a statement condemning the story, muddies the waters even further. Dylan Farrow has stuck to her story over the years. In 2014, she wrote an open letter published in the New York Times with details of her alleged assault. In the aftermath of the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, and the wave of women coming forward to share their own stories of sexual harassment and assault, Farrow wrote an op/ed in the Los Angeles Times pointing out that one man remained unscathed: her father. In January, she sat for her first on camera interview and recounted the events to Gayle King.
We’ve now heard this story from every possible angle. Even the damning quotes by Moses Farrow, Farrow and Allen’s adopted son, are nothing new. In May, he published a nearly 4,700 word blog post defending his father, and accusing Farrow of emotional abuse. And still, each camp remains intransigently entrenched in their position. If you believe Dylan, this story is unlikely to have changed your perspective. If you believe that we should separate Allen’s art from his personal behaviour, you’re probably gearing up for a re-watch of Annie Hall. If you believe it's possible for a relationship that began with an off-kilter power balance and baggage to survive and evolve into an enduring marriage of equals, then you might think the handholding is sweet. If you believe that it’s possible that Farrow could be a terrible mother to at least some of her children, and also that Allen could be guilty of the accusations against him, you’re probably in the majority.
Rather than upset the narrative, all this profile has done is dredge up the same old tangled, convoluted drama once again. And with no clear answer in sight, we’ll probably be having this very conversation again very soon.
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