In the third installment of “Allen v. Farrow,” former New York Times reporter Peter Marks — who covered the 1992 custody trial between Woody Allen and Mia Farrow — admits with some mixed emotions that he hasn’t watched another Woody Allen movie since.
“I didn’t buy it […] either,” Marks says somewhat sheepishly. “As a reporter it’s hard to admit this, in a way. I absolutely worshipped Woody Allen before this trial and I still, well the proof is I could never watch a Woody Allen film again after this. It still hurts, it still wrenches me to say that, it’s still not easy to say that.”
Now the chief theater critic of the Washington Post, Marks speaks for all culture connoisseurs in that moment. For years, cinephiles and New York aesthetes turned a blind eye to the horrific allegations of childhood sexual abuse made against Allen by Dylan Farrow, his former adopted daughter, choosing instead to believe Allen’s crafty media spin that Dylan was coached by a jealous Mia. The motivation behind her so-called scorned woman routine? Allen’s “affair” with Mia’s other adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn, to whom he is still married today.
In retrospect, the fact that Allen got away with his alleged crimes is despicable, but not entirely surprising given what we know about the criminal justice system’s lenience toward powerful white men (and few others). The fact that his venerated reputation in Hollywood remained mostly intact until very recently — for some, perhaps until the airing of “Allen v. Farrow” — is a shame we all must carry. As the many critics interviewed in Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering’s powerful HBO docuseries point out, anyone who’s seen “Manhattan,” or any of Allen’s movies, or read his plays, can plainly see he has long held an obsession with young girls.
Why did it take so long for anyone to give a damn?
As we learned from the improbable rise of our last president (another alleged rapist of underage girls), there exists an extremely dark underbelly to our unhealthy obsession with celebrity and culture. While Woody Allen devotees (past and present) may cringe at the comparison, both Donald Trump and Woody Allen were vaunted New York personalities who wielded their power to evade consequences for multiple heinous alleged crimes.
It wasn’t until Dylan Farrow’s 2014 open letter in the New York Times, where she bravely opened old wounds in the hopes that Hollywood might stop funding Allen’s movies (as she had long given up hopes for any other kind of justice), that he slowly started to lose support in Hollywood. Even after the essay was published, his films continued to attract A-list talent, open the Cannes Film Festival, and receive critical acclaim. While many stars have since expressed regrets about working with Allen, it took until 2019 for Amazon Studios to cut ties with the filmmaker. His films still receive funding in Europe.
With all due respect to cinema, there is no world in which the entire Woody Allen oeuvre is worth a single child being sexually abused and traumatized for the rest of their life. That’s just not a trade I’m willing to accept. They’re just movies, people.
Over three years of research, interviews with family friends, child psychologists, and legal experts, “Allen v. Farrow” clearly and thoroughly lays out the facts of the allegations, as well as the resulting media frenzy and stymied criminal trials. The series has been eye-opening, horrifying, unbelievable, and very popular. It is the latest entry in a burgeoning genre of post-#MeToo investigative docuseries about alleged child abusers who seemed too big to take down. As “Leaving Neverland” did for Michael Jackson and “Surviving R. Kelly” did for R. Kelly, sometimes it takes a glossy TV show to make people see what was in front of their eyes from the start.
The same media obsessed culture that turned a blind eye to Allen’s actions has now been taken in by another form of entertainment. Through expert craftsmanship and painstaking research, Dick and Ziering have created a piece of media that will hopefully speak to culture vultures in terms they can understand. It’s just one more piece of the whole tragic ordeal that it has to be this way.