In the New Woody Allen Docuseries, I Saw My Own Sexual Abuse Story
Woody Allen is one of the most prolific and beloved filmmakers in the world. People are drawn to the ways in which he is able to make the human condition relatable. He’s one of those figures who has become an icon and as a result, in spite of persistent allegations of sexual abuse by his daughter Dylan, he has remained untouchable, until now.
In the new HBO documentary series Allen Vs Farrow, Dylan finally gets a platform to disclose the myriad ways in which Allen acted inappropriately toward her. As a sexual abuse survivor myself, I have zero doubt in my mind as to the credibility of her allegations even though there is a part of me, the part that admires the talent of Woody Allen’s creativity, that wishes it wasn’t true.
So much of Dylan’s experience felt eerily familiar to me. Her detailed recollections of things that happened including sensations like touch and smell are very common amongst survivors of abuse. What I have learned is that our brain attempts to distract from what is occurring to our bodies by hyperfixating on other senses, thereby creating a somatic imprint of what happened. This is one of the aspects of sexual abuse that most frequently causes the worst symptoms of PTSD, namely flashbacks.
She also appears to have had behavioral issues that they recognized but didn’t attribute to the inappropriate relationship she had with Allen. She would become broody and reclusive when he came around. That should have been a red flag, not that there was something wrong with her, but that there was something inappropriate occurring between she and Allen. My own family acknowledges witnessing behavior in myself that was atypical for a child, a similar broodiness and angst. They just thought I was “mature for my age and an old soul” never once questioning whether there may have been a reason for my unusual behavior.
The third very typical aspect of Dylan’s story that many survivors can relate to is how Allen groomed not just her, but her entire family. He insinuated himself into their world in a way that made him appear to be a wonderful guy. Attentive, affectionate, doting. And because of his celebrity status, he was put on a pedestal and his motives never questioned, even when he was seen touching Dylan inappropriately. Mia Farrow was in complete denial of the abuse and refused to do anything to stop it because she was in love with Allen and couldn’t believe he would do anything to hurt her or her child. Perpetrators of sexual abuse are often well loved and respected by the general population. It’s partly how they can get away with their crimes. They are able to hide behind their public persona and dupe even those who are most closely connected to the child. It’s as though caregivers are blinded by the charisma of the abuser to the detriment of the child who ends up feeling as though they are the problem because obviously nobody else sees the dark side of the abuser.
Again, my own abuser was well regarded in the community, smart, had a good job, made good money and was well connected. Even though my family insists they didn’t like him very well, they have also remarked that they never thought he could have been capable of abusing me. It’s no wonder that he was able to do what he did while my grandmother was literally in the next room, completely oblivious to what was happening.
Another aspect of Dylan’s story also resonated deeply with me as a similar coping strategy. She pores through photo albums and points out photos that have been doctored, meaning Woody Allen has been cut out of them. When I first started having memories of my abuse come back to me, I felt a compulsive need to look at old photos in an attempt to somehow reconcile what I remembered with some kind of sense of time. The only way I could do this was to piece together memories with photos, figuring out how old I was, where I lived, what was happening in my life and who was there. I found numerous photos of myself as a child with my abuser and I either threw them away or cut him out of the photos in some kind of attempt to extricate him from my life and memory.
And the final part of Dylan’s story that resonated was that even after witnessing inappropriate behavior and confronting Woody Allen, Mia Farrow still allowed him to continue being a presence in her life because it suited her and she was in love with him. By doing so she negated the abuse that Dylan experienced and put her in an impossible situation where she had to either protect herself from future violations or simply tolerate them. No child should ever have to be in that situation. In my case, after my grandmother and mother discovered what was going on, they did confront him, but because he paid them to do his laundry and cook for him, he continued coming to our house every week, forcing me to hide from him every time he came to our house. I could never comprehend why they would allow that to happen. I felt both betrayed and in despair, recognizing that my safety and needs were less important than those of my “caregivers.”
The end of the episode introduces the story line of the affair Woody Allen was having with Mia Farrows eldest daughter Soon Yi, which will presumably be the focus of the upcoming episode.
What is abundantly clear is that Allen has been able to avoid accountability for his actions at the expense of Dylan Farrow. Dylan has had to endure not just the pain of her abuse, but that of being disbelieved and vilified for trying to get some kind of validation of her pain. Her story is all too common amongst survivors of abuse, even when their abuser isn’t a world famous filmmaker. I hope that this documentary allows Dylan to finally speak her truth and reclaim her story. I also hope it leads to at least some form of justice with regard to Woody Allen even if it’s in the court of public opinion. And I hope other survivors of child sexual abuse will recognize themselves in this story the way I have and know that they are not alone, the abuse was not their fault and that no matter how long it takes they can take back their power and agency.
Lead image courtesy of HBO’s YouTube account