On Who Gets to Speak: Hearing Dylan Farrow

“Woody Allen is a living testament to the way our society fails the survivors of sexual assault and abuse.”  ~ Dylan Farrow

For weeks we’ve been engaged in seeing the 2014 Academy Award nominated movies and several others from this past year that did not receive “the nod of the Academy.”  By the time we focused our schedules on this endeavor, Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” was due out on dvd; and so, we saw others, then purchased it shortly after its release.  After all, the cost of a dvd is about the same as two tickets to the movie theater.  But it is generally unusual for us to buy movies; we usually see most of them at the theatre or on television, and only purchase the film if on rare occasions we plan on watching it several times.

We’ve had the movie “Blue Jasmine” sitting in our dvd player for about two weeks.  The first time we tried to watch it, I fell asleep.  The second time, I convinced my husband that we should go out, despite the impending snowstorm, and catch yet another theater matinee.

The movie stars Cate Blanchett, who’s been said to be “the red hot favorite” to win the Best Actress Oscar for her performance as what could be said to be Woody’s “latest” New York socialite, interestingly and/or predictably “on the decline.”

Something I didn’t seem to want to face is that I had an uneasy feeling about buying a Woody Allen movie, just as I have for years had an uneasy feeling about watching Woody Allen movies.  I don’t like to face this reality because neither my bias nor my uneasiness has anything to do with what I know about film, and certainly nothing to do with his considerable artistic talent and achievement.

For decades, I have had an uneasy feeling about the man, ever since he married his stepdaughter Soon Yi-Previn–and worse, since he was accused of molesting his 7-year-old adopted daughter Dylan, who is the child of his then wife, actress Mia Farrow.  There are some realities we just don’t want to know about, particularly when it comes to art.  When you are a critic, you’re not concerned with what goes on in a man’s personal life, you’re interested in experiencing the work he has produced.

I saw the Golden Globes just three Sundays ago when Woody Allen’s partner of five years and longtime friend, actress Diane Keaton, proudly presented the prized Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award to him at the Golden Globes.  As I listened, I struggled to feel reverence and respect for the recipient during Keaton’s obviously well-rehearsed tribute, and I knew in my heart what I believed for sure when I felt nothing but chilled when she sang inauspiciously to him (who was not there in person for the ceremony), the words to a friendship song I’ve never heard sound hollower: “Make new friends/but keep the old/one is silver/and the other gold.”

It was the same sort of psychological ducking I found myself doing all day today when I awakened to the news that Dylan Farrow, now 28, broke her silence on the alleged sexual abuse by publishing a letter in this morning’s New York Times.  It was the first news of the day I saw, and yet the last news I would bring myself to read.  Indeed, having successfully carried out my own artistic day, I managed not without awareness to avoid reading the report until just before taking to this blank screen.  This is remarkable even further as I had on today’s to-do list the determination for certain of what I would blog about next.

How can I not blog about this?  How can we pretend we don’t need to say something, to do something, to care?  Can we even talk about what really has happened?  About what continues to happen?  Who do we think we are by claiming the luxury of indifference?  Do we not have children and grandchildren and wives and sisters and mothers and friends? How is it that the truth tellers suffer from impotence while the violators thrive?  How can this be?  If Ghandi is right that we should be the change we want to see in the world, then what I’m saying is that rape is not okay.  Sexual assault is not okay.  Sexual harassment, not okay.  Pedophilia, NOT okay.  You knew that, but have you said it out loud today? Have you blogged about it?  No.  Because we don’t like to talk about the truth.  We think most people who do are weird. Or, more ironically, we think that the people telling the truth are lying, and the people lying are telling the truth.  How crazy is this?

Worse still, as Dylan Farrow points out, we blame the victim.  It’s not only the perpetrator that does, but we do, too.  Every time we hesitate or doubt, every time we look askance, force explanations and evidence that cannot be provided, every time we judge the complainant without knowing, we participate in blaming the victim.  And we do it in print, with extensive, swashbuckling rhetoric enough to make a grown woman vomit.

We expect offenders to blame their victims; or, we should start to expect it.  Offenders do not want to accept responsibility for their actions.  They do not want people to know what they did, because they want either to get away with it or to continue doing it.  They derive power and satisfaction to the point that they do not want to stop or be stopped, and they even enjoy lying.  It all works out well for them because they generally aren’t stopped and they are even sometimes believed, particularly when they carry with them any notable esteem or accomplishment.

How many 7-year-old psyches have to be surrendered before we are willing to reconsider the way we are seeing this distortion?  Offenders need to deflect the attention from themselves (at least about their crimes), and the obvious recipient is conveniently their original target.  Because offenders lack empathy, they do not care about the victim. They also crave ascendancy.  It makes sense that pedophiles lack empathy, but it does not make sense that healthy people do.

So here is where this experience leaves me.  I want to say that I am not the victim of childhood sexual assault, but that I believe that Dylan Farrow was, and as she states, at the hands of her famous former father, Woody Allen.  The reason I feel I can make this assertion is because I know that such perpetrators are masters at hiding such evidence. You might say, they have it down to an art form.  They’re as accomplished at getting away with their evil deeds as they are at committing them.

So, I am comfortable feeling that I can know without irrefutable proof (that almost never exists in these types of crimes anyway).  I also feel I can know “without knowing” because I am a woman and I am a student of art and life, and I watch closely all things that concern or interest me, as we all should do.  As such, like many women, I have a rather developed sense of intuition, and my intuition tells me that Dylan Farrow is standing up for a cause, not merely against a person she would rather never see again.  She isn’t so much trying to ruin Woody Allen, as she is trying to recover the self he stole from her.  Trying to recover what the lie steals, the lie that he is somehow okay (and worthy of commendation), when she knows in some ways she’s never been okay, thanks directly to him.  This is important work that must be done, and we should applaud her courage.

I also have the very real and concrete experience of having seen all too often the insidious and sometimes debilitating effects of these offenses in my girlfriends, relatives, students, and even colleagues.  Furthermore, statistics show that 1 out 5 women are survivors of some type of physical or sexual violence, and when we witness them first or secondhand, we unavoidably learn the authentic signs.

Here’s the thing.  Most woman do not lie about being molested.  In fact, and the whole reason I am speaking out on this revolting issue is that most woman carry the shame and the secret, as if they have something to hide, even while the perpetrator walks, produces, and creates freely.  If an artist can get away with pretending he did not rape, then an artist should be able to get away with admitting that she has been raped.

What is wrong with our twisted logic that it is so acceptable to offend and so elaborately deny–but not okay to tell the sad, simple, disgusting truth?  If a writer, a daughter, a woman cannot even speak the truth without fear of repercussions–but a movie director, a father, a man can rape (or “allegedly rape”) with impunity, then humanity is going nowhere but down. Not even backward.  It’s going down.  Whatever we will be in the descent, we certainly won’t be able to call it humane.  Down we continue to go.

A victim of any sexual harassment, victimization, molestation or assault cannot even utter those words without feeling ill, because she knows.  She knows.  And she has for so long been silenced that she says not a thing, lives in a land of no true safety, and even deceives herself about why she feels she has to avoid a plastic disc sitting in an idle machine that she thinks she wants to watch, but somehow knows she doesn’t.

Postscript added 3/26/15, “Woody Allen is a Genius; Woody Allen is a Predator


                                                                                               © Debra Valentino, all rights reserved.