In a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter, Ronan Farrow writes about the thick wall of protection surrounding his father Woody Allen, whose alleged history of sexual abuse has been systematically glossed over.
Despite Allen’s notorious apparent penchant for preying on girls—including his own daughter Dylan Farrow—he continues to put out movies and actors still eagerly sign up to work with him. Farrow’s column, titled “My Father, Woody Allen, and the Danger of Questions Unasked,” explains the many ways Allen’s PR team has helped shield the director from a circus of scrutiny.
Notably, the press around Allen’s latest film Cafe Society—which opens the Cannes Film Festival tonight and stars Kristen Stewart, Jesse Eisenberg, Steve Carell and Blake Lively—has been largely devoid of criticism against Allen. The Hollywood Reporter did a nice cover story, and Variety—which has done not one but two interviews with him— has him talking about being a “romantic fool.” (Hm, where’s Judd Apatow when you need him?)
Farrow starts his piece by noting the obvious link between his dad and the rape allegations against Bill Cosby, recalling his own failure to ask the author of Cosby’s biography why he omitted Cosby’s rape case from his book. Farrow admits he’s “ashamed of that interview” and writes:
Some reporters have drawn connections between the press’ grudging evolution on Cosby and a painful chapter in my own family’s history. It was shortly before the Cosby story exploded anew that my sister Dylan Farrow wrote about her own experiences — alleging that our father, Woody Allen, had “groomed” her with inappropriate touching as a young girl and sexually assaulted her when she was 7 years old.
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Farrow then goes into detail about how Dylan’s story was routinely suppressed by Allen’s publicity team:
Being in the media as my sister’s story made headlines, and Woody Allen’s PR engine revved into action, gave me a window into just how potent the pressure can be to take the easy way out. Every day, colleagues at news organizations forwarded me the emails blasted out by Allen’s powerful publicist, who had years earlier orchestrated a robust publicity campaign to validate my father’s sexual relationship with another one of my siblings.
Describing the “spin machine” behind the scenes, Farrow writes about “talking points” being circulated in emails along with suggestions for law and therapy experts who could basically invalidate Dylan’s story:
The open CC list on those emails revealed reporters at every major outlet with whom that publicist shared relationships — and mutual benefit, given her firm’s starry client list, from Will Smith to Meryl Streep. Reporters on the receiving end of this kind of PR blitz have to wonder if deviating from the talking points might jeopardize their access to all the other A-list clients.
Basically, publicists love using their famous clients as pawn in this system of suppression.
Farrow takes aim specifically at legacy publications, writing that various newspapers decided against publishing Dylan’s open letter before it went public (in The New York Times), reminding us that the Los Angeles Times ended up killing the piece because “It was too hot for them.” He explains that this orchestrated campaign of silence is the problem with sexual abuse cases around famous men: that instead of digging into accusations, it turns into a game of evasion and opinion pieces about “separating the artist from his art.”
While noting how the cogs in the machine and in Allen’s personal life have kept the director safe from intense speculation, Ronan criticizes himself, too, for avoiding making public statements about his sister Dylan’s allegations at first. He writes: “I had worked hard to distance myself from my painfully public family history and wanted my work to stand on its own.” And:
I begged my sister not to go public again and to avoid speaking to reporters about it. I’m ashamed of that, too. With sexual assault, anything’s easier than facing it in full, saying all of it, facing all of the consequences. Even now, I hesitated before agreeing to The Hollywood Reporter’s invitation to write this piece, knowing it could trigger another round of character assassination against my sister, my mother or me.
Farrow says he’s been compelled to make his disgust public, then and now:
I believe my sister. This was always true as a brother who trusted her, and, even at 5 years old, was troubled by our father’s strange behavior around her: climbing into her bed in the middle of the night, forcing her to suck his thumb — behavior that had prompted him to enter into therapy focused on his inappropriate conduct with children prior to the allegations.
He also takes aim at The Hollywood Reporter itself for publishing their cover story with Allen, writing that “it is a sterling example of how not to talk about sexual assault. Dylan’s allegations are never raised in the interview and receive only a parenthetical mention.”
The point is that the female victims of sexual abuse in these cases deserve the benefit of doubt that famous men are so often privy to, even if, as Farrow puts it, “it means going up against angry fans and angry publicists.” He ends the column with a mention of the Cafe Society premiere at Cannes and all the major stars involved. Ignoring the stories of sexual assault victims on such a large scale, he writes, “sends a message about who we are as a society, what we’ll overlook, who we’ll ignore, who matters and who doesn’t.”
Still, and as always, the likelihood is that Allen won’t be forced to confront his issues because his PR team gets paid too much to let that happen and because, more plainly, that’s not how Hollywood works.
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