HARD QUESTIONS FOR RONAN FARROW – AN OPEN LETTER

By Robert B. Weide

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After penning his much-read 2014 Daily Beast piece about the Woody Allen allegations, filmmaker and Allen biographer Robert Weide thought he was through with the subject. But after a recent essay by Ronan Farrow in The Hollywood Reporter, encouraging the press to keep asking Allen “the hard questions,” Weide felt it was once again time to respond.

Dear Ronan Farrow:

How would you feel if you unearthed this quote from a prominent friend of Woody Allen‘s, citing his artistic merit, as a defense in the face of child molestation charges?

“[He’s] a loyal friend, important to me, a distinguished director, important to the motion picture industry, and a brave and brilliant man, important to all people.”

Would you be outraged? Would you issue a Tweet, calling out the friend as a rape enabler? Think about it. What would you do?

The quote actually has nothing to do with your father. It appears in the probation report of Roman Polanski, written after the director had been charged with statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl. The statement was submitted by the director’s friend and colleague, Mia Farrow.

Now read it again.

I read your recent article for the Hollywood Reporter, in which you hold the media accountable for giving your father a pass, and not asking him “the hard questions.” I found the piece to be disingenuous, irresponsible, and even dangerous. You and your mother have both asked that the press continue to hold Woody Allen’s feet to the fire in the name of “women everywhere” and “all abuse survivors.” But there is plenty of evidence to suggest this isn’t really your primary concern.

Your mother’s statement in Polanski’s probation report seems to imply the director’s artistic talent outweighed the damage he may have caused to the young girl who was then struggling for credibility, even after Polanski’s admission of guilt. Has Mia ever reached out to her over these past forty years to explain her lack of solidarity with the victim? Further, in 2014, your mother’s lawyer in the infamous custody battle, Alan Dershowitz, was accused of having sex with an under aged girl. He aggressively denied the accusation. Last April, a Florida judge dismissed the charge, but because the girl accused him of this crime, shouldn’t you be advocating for her? What about the child victims of Mia’s brother, John Villers-Farrow, who is currently doing prison time for multiple counts of molestation against two young boys? I don’t remember you speaking out when Uncle John had part of his sentence suspended. What about your own brother Moses, who describes being beaten often by Mia as a child? What have you done to help your brother get his story out? For someone who’s concerned with abuse victims “everywhere,” you seem to be less than universal about the cases you feel warrant public scrutiny.

Now you and your mother resort to exploiting the women who have accused Bill Cosby of rape, by trying to hitch your cause to theirs, repeatedly connecting your father’s name to Cosby’s, as though the cases are in any way similar. That would be laughable under less tragic circumstances.

For starters, Cosby has had, what… 50? 60? accusers, many with strikingly similar stories to tell. I assure you, this disturbs me as much as it does you. In your father’s case, there was a single accusation concerning a single alleged incident, raised by an ex-lover during a contentious custody battle. Obviously, the accusation of a single crime should warrant the same attention as a spate of serial abuses. But how can you brush aside the obvious fact that Cosby’s accusers, until very recently, never had their day in court, when your mother, on your sister’s behalf, had months in court as well as unlimited and well-utilized media access?

Furthermore, how many of Cosby’s accusers would give anything to have an extensive court-ordered criminal inquiry into their case, to prove the validity of their claims? As you know full well, your mother and sister had the benefit of just such a review. The Connecticut State Police ordered an investigation by the The Child Sexual Abuse Clinic of the Yale/New Haven Hospital, whose six-month inquiry (which included medical and psychological examinations) concluded, decisively and unambiguously, that Dylan had not been molested. (The Yale-New Haven investigation summary is actually available on line for anyone to read.)

Then there was the entirely separate 14-month investigation conducted by the N.Y. State Department of Social Services (child welfare). Guess what their conclusion was? The same as Yale-New Haven: “No credible evidence was found that the child named in this report has been abused or maltreated. This report has, therefore, been considered unfounded.” How could all these official investigations get it so wrong? Although the custody case raged on, criminal charges were never brought against your father.

Let me repeat that: Woody Allen wasn’t tried and found “not guilty,” nor was he exonerated by way of some obscure legal loophole. Rather, two separate, thorough investigations, conducted by highly-regarded teams of professionals, whose job it is to determine whether there is credible evidence to charge someone of a crime, concluded that the incident never happened. Your father was never tried for any crime, because no charges were ever brought against him. Yet you’re essentially asking the media to treat him as a pariah who never faced up to the charge, or was convicted of a crime and managed to negotiate his way out of a proper sentencing. For someone with your background in law, that’s a very interesting position to take.

I won’t rehash the details of the custody case again, since I know you read my Daily Beast piece in 2014. You and I may come to different conclusions as to how all the evidence adds up, but will you concede that it’s possible for reasonable and fair-minded people not to take your side? Can you understand why not everyone is so eager to hop on the bandwagon to tar and feather your father?

And then there’s the matter of your older brother, Moses Farrow, who was thirteen-years-old on “the day in question,” when you were four.

I interviewed Moses for several hours, while preparing my Daily Beast piece, but made only brief reference to our talk, in order to protect his well-deserved privacy. I know you two haven’t spoken for years (he’s referred to “escaping the clan”), but he continues to enjoy a fulfilling career as a licensed marriage and family therapist, dealing with abuse and adoption issues on a regular basis. After publication of my essay, Moses felt further emboldened to come forward to People magazine. Here’s an excerpt from his statement:

“Of course Woody did not molest my sister. She loved him and looked forward to seeing him when he would visit. She never hid from him until our mother succeeded in creating the atmosphere of fear and hate towards him. The day in question, there were six or seven of us in the house. We were all in public rooms and no one, not my father or sister, was off in any private spaces. My mother was conveniently out shopping. I don’t know if my sister really believes she was molested or is trying to please her mother. Pleasing my mother was very powerful motivation because to be on her wrong side was horrible… Our mother has misled the public into believing it was a happy household of both biological and adopted children. From an early age, my mother demanded obedience and I was often hit as a child.”

When this statement went public, I recall your sister’s response was, “My brother is dead to me.” But I’ve never heard you address Moses’ statement. So here’s a hard question for you: Is your brother Moses a liar?

Your recent essay linked to your sister’s very compelling New York Times piece published on the blog of your family friend, columnist Nicholas Kristof (though it provided no link to your father’s response). To this day, I find the part of Dylan’s letter hardest to shake is the vivid picture she paints of the actual moment of violation, which she says took place in the attic: “[My father] told me to lay on my stomach and play with my brother’s electric train set. Then he sexually assaulted me… I remember staring at that toy train, focusing on it as it traveled in its circle around the attic. To this day, I find it difficult to look at toy trains.”

Here’s what your brother Moses recently had to say:

“I assure you, there was no electric train set in that attic. There was nothing practical about that space as a place for kids to play, even if we wanted to. It was an unfinished attic with exposed fiberglass insulation. It smelled of moth balls and there were mouse traps and poison pellets left all around. My mother used it for storage where she kept several trunks full of hand-me-down clothes, that sort of thing. The idea that the space could possibly accommodate a functioning electric train set, circling around the attic, makes no sense at all. One of my brothers did have an elaborate model train set, but it was set up in the boys’ room, a converted garage on the first floor. Maybe that was the train set my sister thinks she remembers.”

Can’t you see how complicated this gets for people who would like to accept your accounting of that day? Can you understand how believing in your father’s innocence doesn’t automatically make one a #RapeEnabler, #PedoApologist, #SlutShamer, or any number of those easy hashtag epithets we’ve all been called? Will you concede that one can believe your father without presuming your sister to be a liar? I feel it’s essential that when anyone claims abuse, you should believe the accuser first, and ask questions later. But why would you advocate doing only the former and not the latter? Are there two sides to every story except yours?

You further suggest that anyone expressing a dissenting point of view from yours is part of a well- orchestrated, robust publicity campaign, masterminded by Woody’s all-powerful publicist, Leslee Dart. I beg to differ, but for the two years I was working on my PBS documentary on your father, I never once had any contact with Ms. Dart, nor anyone in her office. Not only was I not issued any “talking points” when I wrote my Daily Beast piece, but Ms. Dart was never informed I was even writing it, nor have I once spoken to her about the piece you’re reading now. Ironically, your father is well-known for being one of the public figures least dependent on a publicist to run their life, as attested to by any number of reporters who have interviewed him.

You say the media should ask your father the hard questions, but what questions do you have in mind? “Did you molest your daughter?” He’s answered this question countless times, in and out of a court of law, on and off camera, and even during a lie detector test, which he passed. (Your mother wouldn’t take one.) How many times is he supposed to say “no?” Do you think if he’s badgered enough, he’ll suddenly remember things differently? For those who believe your father is being truthful, is it reasonable for them to continually hound your sister with the expectation that she’ll suddenly recant?

It’s not difficult to get the media to follow your lead and rehash your accusations every time Woody Allen has a new film coming out or is presented with another award. Since celebrity scandal is the ultimate click bait, it’s in everyone’s best interests (except your father’s) to keep this story going for as long as possible. But what if serious journalists start resenting being told what to believe, what questions to ask? What happens if they start to feel they’re being played? What if they conclude that your call for responsible journalism may actually be the opposite?

So far, your family has successfully converted a number of celebrities to your cause: Susan Sarandon, Lena Dunham, Sarah Silverman, and others have issued anti-Woody statements or Tweets, so congratulations on that. Meanwhile, you and your sister call out by name any number of actors who have reserved judgment and chosen to work with your father (many of whom have received death threats following your family’s missives, which doesn’t exactly endear them to your position). You say it hurts your sister every time one of her heroes like Louis C.K. or Miley Cyrus works with your father. Is the inference that if her favorite actors stopped working with him, this would bring her some happiness? If investors stopped financing his films, and studios stopped distributing them, would this finally bring healing and closure to your family? I don’t doubt that you love your sister and want her to feel empowered by speaking out, and with the encouragement of you and her mother and other loved ones, she’s done just that. But if the message here is that her sense of closure is dependent on the opinions of untold millions of strangers who aren’t eager to take her position in this matter (or perhaps any position), isn’t that message the very opposite of empowerment?

And even if you succeeded at riding Woody Allen out of town on a rail, how does that empower all the abused women and children you say you’re standing up for? What can you or I offer those in need of healing who don’t have a newsworthy celebrity in the equation – those who aren’t offered editorial space in the Hollywood Reporter?

For a hint of an answer, I turn to the voice of experience — that of my friend, Samantha Geimer, the “girl” in the Polanski case whose claims were ignored by your mother when she spoke up on behalf of her abuser. Now a mother of three, and a recent grandmother, Sam has given the issues of healing, closure, and empowerment a lot of thought for almost forty years. Here’s what she has to say:

“The most important thing is to try to begin recovering from within. I don’t think you can heal from outside events happening. Waiting for the actions of others— be it the courts, your family, the opinions of those you care about, or the words of strangers—places you in a situation that you cannot control. Bitterness and retribution, regret and anger are things that poison you; they do not heal you. Accept yourself… Give no one the authority to judge you and do not judge others in how they have chosen to recover. The last and perhaps most difficult thing: Refrain from jumping to conclusions about the guilt of a person who is accused but not charged with or convicted of a crime. I think we all have a lot of work to do.”

Is that something we can all agree on?


Robert B. Weide is an Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning filmmaker whose documentaries have covered the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen and Kurt Vonnegut. He was also the Executive Producer and director of the HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm. He awaits the next Twitter onslaught @BobWeide.