ENOUGH! Confronting Woody Allen | Cassandra Voices

ENOUGH! Confronting Woody Allen


These are extraordinary times. Last month serial sexual abuser Harvey Weinstein, had his 23-year sentence squashed; a Channel 4 documentary aired new sexual misconduct claims against Kevin Spacey, and Woody Allen and Roman Polanski are feted at the Venice Film Festival. ‘Hiding in plain sight’ – and having ruthless lawyers – still seem to work as a treat in the misogynist’s playbook.

Let’s take Woody Allen. These days Woody Allen looks like someone’s favourite teddy that’s been savaged by a pitbull, but don’t be fooled – he’s as unrepentedly misogynistic as ever. And just as keen to claim his innocence: No Court Ever Convicted Me.

Some days it feels as if #MeToo had never happened.

So Woody is the guy who, since the very beginning of his career, made films about older guys glomming onto young women. Very young women. Mariel Hemmingway, in everyone’s favourite Woody movie, ‘Manhattan’, was sixteen-years-old. Sixteen! Being drooled on by a 40-something Woody Allen.

When shooting wrapped on ‘Manhattan’ Woody drove her to her parents mansion and suggested she run away to Paris with him, where he would make her a star. Would there be separate bedrooms? Asked the kid. Eh, no.

Praise the Lord (and pass the ammunition), that was the end of that.

But Woody went on to make more, and more, movies featuring older men – very often himself – and younger, much younger women.

Emma Stone, Allen, and Parker Posey at the Cannes Film Festival in 2015

Cultural Icon

Part of the blindness to this carry on arose of course from Woody being a ‘cultural icon’ for millions of Boomers. The softly-spoken, wonky-specked hero of their fav films, could do no wrong. Woody was their very own ‘Lovable, Neurotic Nebbish’.

As Steven Kurutz of the New York Times wrote that Woody was the litmus test for all things groovy: ‘E. E. Cummings, Paris, 1930s jazz and the sophisticated, cultured world his films came to represent.’

Apart from a few sharp eyed critics like Joan Didion who said Mariel Hemingway in ‘Manhattan’ was ‘another kind of adolescent fantasy,  a high-school senior with perfect skin, perfect wisdom, perfect sex, and no visible family’, or film critic Pauline Kael who asked, ‘What man in his forties but Woody Allen could pass off a predilection for teenagers as a quest for true values?’

Most people played along. It was just Woody, playing out his ‘predilections’. Hahaha. Then came real life.

It turned out it was the same Woody Allen who groomed, seduced, and had a secret affair with his and Mia Farrow’s sixteen-year old high school daughter, Soon-Yi. A young woman whom he had been de facto father to for thirteen years. A young girl, chauffeured to him in his apartment still in her school uniform.

When confronted by a horrified Mia – she’d found the pornographic photos he had taken of  Soon-Yi on his desk – Woody went full DARVO. Deny. Attack. Reverse Victim and Offender. Who cared if he destroyed his family and his partner Mia in the process? Certainly not Woody.

He denied Soon-yi was his daughter, that he had been in loco parentis for over thirteen years. Denied grooming her. Denied that Soon-yi, a Korean street child, surviving on trash until adopted by Mia and then husband Andre Previn, was peculiarly vulnerable, having never even had a boyfriend until Mr Specs moved on her.

No no no, wrote Woody. ‘Here was a sharp, classy, fabulous young woman: highly intelligent, full of latent potential, ready to ripen superbly’.

“Ready to ripen superbly.”

Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn in Venice in 1996

Worse to come

During custody proceedings it turned out, as Dylan would testify years later in her open letter to the New York Times that Allen had groomed her, and abused her, ‘doing things to her that she didn’t like’ for ‘as long as she could remember’?

Immediately, the vast army of lawyers, PR wonks, ‘experts’ employed by him to destroy Mia Farrow and allow him ‘have’ Soon-Yi, switched their attention to destroying the evidence of his then seven-year-old daughter, Dylan.

In a classic Toxic Dad move, Woody lodged a legal appeal to gain custody of his and Mia’s three younger children: Moses, Dylan and Ronan, saying Mia was an unfit mother. A harridan. A bully. A crazy person. Whom her children hated. That these ‘false allegations’ of abusing Dylan were manifestations of Mia Farrow’s ‘festering anger’ against him. Part of a ‘bitter custody battle’.

Woody was the first to bring up the toxic ‘Parental Alienation’ defence now poisoning thousands of custody cases in both America, the U.K., even here in Ireland, whereby abusive fathers can get full custody of children when their lawyers assert the Mums have ‘alienated’ them against the same abusive Dad.

According to one top US lawyer, it’s ‘easier for the Courts to grant custody to an abusive father than to believe the mother’. Thousands of women, and children, have suffered terribly. Little comfort to them that the guy who dreamed up this latest patriarchal wheeze hacked himself to pieces in his kitchen with a carving knife as local deputies moved in with child abuse charges.

As Woody’s attacks on Mia as ‘harridan’ were amplified by an adoring press, lapped up by fans, interview after sympathetic interview was conducted with our man, ‘as New York as the Statue of Liberty’. It was box office. Who doesn’t love to see a super-rich, beautiful blonde with a large, multicultural family, taken down?

Luckily, Woody overplayed his hand. The seven week-long custody case didn’t go his way.  The judge, to Woody’s and his expensive lawyers evident astonishment, denied him custody. In case anyone was in doubt as to why the Judge spelled it out: ‘Mr. Allen’s resort to the stereotypical ‘woman scorned’ defence is an injudicious attempt to divert attention from his failure as a responsible parent and adult.’ Hurray!

Mia Farrow at the 2018 Pulitzer Prizes awards ceremony.

No Criminal Conviction

Sadly, attempts at securing a criminal conviction against him for the sexual abuse of Dylan foundered.

First, the New York hospital who conducted ‘interviews’ at Woody’s behest with seven-year-old  Dylan, destroyed all their evidence, then claimed she had either been ‘coached’ or was ‘deluded’. Before any judicial process could take place they allowed Woody Allen to hold a press conference on the hospital steps to ‘proclaim his innocence’.

The New York Prosecutor was apoplectic. But hey, Woody was Woody. He brought millions of dollars into New York, right? What was a seven-year-old’s ‘discomfort’ compared to that?

A young NYC welfare officer who interviewed Dylan separately, believed her. He was ‘instructed’ to find her allegations ‘unfounded’. When he refused, he was fired. His superior said: ‘The elite do whatever they want to do. There are no consequences’. She  resigned.

Meanwhile in separate proceedings in Connecticut where Mia and the children lived, another prosecutor believed there was ‘probable cause for a criminal case’. But it was this prosecutor and Mia Farrow who reluctantly decided to call a halt to further legal proceedings as putting a traumatised seven-year-old through any more of this brutality would be too much.

Woody held another press conference: he was clean! More parties! More cheering!

And he continued to make films, play jazz, and yes, actually get married to Soon-Yi. He was sixty-two, she twenty-seven.

Most importantly, he got to keep his precious status as an ‘auteur’ and ‘proven genius’. One of the ‘greats’ of Western cinema.

Ronan Farrow.

Post Traumatic Stress

He almost got away with it.

His victims, daughter Dylan and partner Mia Farrow – though all the children in the family were affected –  were left with the pain, post-traumatic-stress, years of self-loathing, anxiety and depression, while he partied on.

As Dylan wrote, ‘Sexual abuse is a life long sentence. It never goes away’.

Woody said it was all ‘stupid’, ‘silly’.  There was nothing he could do. And, magic trick!, no court had convicted him. He was clean.

Luckily, just when you think you’ve killed it off for good, the truth has a nasty habit of reappearing.

It was the lionisation of her father at the Golden Globes in 2014  that drove Dylan, now a beautiful young woman in her twenties, into offering that open letter to the New York Times:

For as long as I could remember my father had been doing things to me that I didn’t like…

I didn’t like how often he would take me away from my mom, siblings and friends to be alone with him. I didn’t like it when he would stick his thumb in my mouth. I didn’t like it when I had to get in bed with him under the sheets when he was in his underwear. I didn’t like it when he would place his head in my naked lap and breathe in and breathe out. I would hide under beds or lock myself in the bathroom to avoid these encounters, but he always found me.

Woody’s obsessive grooming culminated in taking the little girl to a ‘crawl space’ in the attic in the family home in Connecticut, making her lie on her tummy and watch her brother’s train set go round, while he touched her private parts, then penetrated her with his finger.

He told her it was ‘their secret’.  That one day he would take her to Paris and make her a movie star.

Horribly, the exact same line he’d used on Mariel Hemingway.

Dylan’s letter to the New York Times was a bombshell. Twenty-two years after her mother’s initial disclosure of abuse, cultural indulgence towards male abusers had chilled. Significantly.

Dylan’s younger brother, Ronan Farrow, who Allen had offered a ‘comfortable life’ to in return for speaking out against his sister and his mother, was developing a successful investigative journalism career.  His eyes were on that other elephant in the room of abuse, Harvey Weinstein.

Crucially for Dylan, and for their mother Mia, Ronan became an ally.

At first, he admits he was horrified at his sister’s public re-announcement of their father’s sexual abuse. He begged her not to. ‘It was the last association I wanted’. A bonfire in which friendships, powerful allies and those all-important connections would get burnt. Where Woody Allen’s ferocious spin machine would go into overdrive once more.

Thankfully the #MeToo Movement was sweeping through the ‘entertainment world’.

Woody’s ‘this is all too silly’ schtick began to look threadbare.

Ronan’s book on the Harvey Weinstein scandal, Catch and Kill became a Pulitzer Prize-winning best seller. Hachette, poised to publish Woody’s memoir under the same imprint, pulped Woody, and championed Ronan. Amazon cancelled a four film-deal.

The Tables Turn

The coup de grace was a four-part HBO documentary aired in 2021, ‘Allen v Farrow’ made by Jane Doe Films. The details, painstakingly put together, paint an utterly damning portrait of an decidedly not nice little guy.

Woody began to sound less sanguine, dismissing the actors who dared refuse to work with him, with: ‘That’s how actors and actresses are, denouncing me became the fashionable thing to do, like everybody suddenly eating kale.’

As if kale had anything to do with justice. With little ones being abused.

Rather prophetically justice has come for Woody and his ilk, Harvey Weinstein etc., via the media. The same media these men manipulated, for years.

Far from being a ‘Trial by Media’ as these scions of the patriarchy like to characterise it, for abused women, going to the media, taking the fight to Twitter, or TikTok, or the New York Times,  is a ‘form of rebellion’. It is a way, said Baroness Helena Kennedy QC. with regard to yet another alleged sexual abuser, Russell Brand, for abused women to ‘throw a brick through the windows of the Criminal Justice System. A way of saying: You Have Let Us Down’.

Throwing bricks through windows has a venerable feminist history. Smashing the windows of shops in London was an effective tool in the Suffragettes armoury. Not listening to us? How about this: Crash! Bang! Wallop! And down came the huge plate glass windows in cascading showers of splinters.

The sexual exploitation and abuse of women by powerful men is still endemic in our culture.  However it is called out – through film, documentaries, social media, by incredibly brave young women like Dylan Farrow, by throwing bricks through windows – it is our way of saying ENOUGH.


About Author

Rosita Sweetman is a member of the well-known Sweetman family, a brewing, legal and political Irish dynasty dating back to Norman times. She is a founding member of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement, (the IWLM) which flamed brilliantly into life in a horribly restrictive and repressive 1970’s Ireland; restrictions that impacted mostly on women. When the architecture of Patriarchy gave all the advantages to men – no matter how useless they were. The IWLM existence was short lived, but it’s impact continues to this day. It gave birth to the first organisations in the country that helped ‘battered wives’, women in crisis pregnancies, women in need of support at work. Most of all it opened women’s eyes to a different way of life, a life not dictated to them by the Church. Rosita has worked in writing and journalism since her teens. First at the BBC in London, then RTE, the (ex) Irish Press, the Sunday Independent, the Irish Times. She has published three books. ‘On Our Knees’, 1972, a look at contemporary Ireland via a smorgasbord of interviews with interesting people. ‘Fathers Come First’, 1974, a coming of age novel, re-issued as a modern classic by the Lilliput Press in 2015. And ‘On Our Backs’, 1979, a startling look at ‘sexual attitudes in a changing Ireland’. All sold out their print run of 60,000. Rosita believes passionately in equality, and that Feminism really can save the world from the planet wide disaster we are currently plunged into. She is mother to wonderful jeweller Chupi, and to wonderful filmmaker Luke, and very, very recently, grandmother to Chupi and Brian’s beautiful little daughter Aya.

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