Written by Mattie Kahn
I can’t remember how Central Park looked before I saw Manhattan.
At the time, I was sixteen and my commute to high school necessitated I cross the park twice each day. Had you asked whether I was familiar with those green acres, I would have claimed them as no less than my birthright. Like any born-and-bred New Yorker, I long ago deemed Central Park my personal backyard. And yet after that inaugural showing of the late-70s film, the once-familiar landscape remade itself for me. Suddenly, I could see Sheep’s Meadow and Central Park West and even the famed skyline only through the filter of Woody Allen’s distinctive, black frames. To me, it seemed a dreamy pair of lenses through which to gaze at a city I adored.
But last weekend — and on the heels of her brother’s much-circulated tweet during this year’s Golden Globes tribute to Woody Allen, Dylan Farrow published an open letter in which she reaffirmed allegations that her father sexually abused her as a child. In her account, Farrow describes the circumstances of the assault she endured at his hands and holds him accountable for the anxieties that have plagued her ever since.
The scene she depicts is wrenching and raw, but it is not new to the public. Farrow has already shared her story. Fifteen years before Woody Allen changed my view of Manhattan, seven-year-old Dylan Farrow stood before a judge and testified that her adoptive father had molested her in her family’s attic. Allen vehemently asserted his innocence.
Yesterday, a lawyer reiterated as much on his behalf. And in an appearance on the Today show, Elkan Abramowitz characterized Allen’s reaction to the renewed discussion as “one of overwhelming sadness because of what has happened to Dylan. She was a pawn in a huge fight between him and Mia Farrow yeas ago and the idea that she was molested was implanted in her by her mother.”
While they haven’t gone so far as to exonerate him, at least two of Allen’s frequent collaborators have issued statements regarding the controversy. This week, both Cate Blanchett and Alec Baldwin articulated versions of their hope that Allen and Farrow can find peace and resolve this painful issue in their own time. That is, both have implied that this dispute is too private to be subject to public scrutiny.
As I imagine Blanchett and Baldwin were, I’ll admit that I too was tempted to equivocate. At least for a few moments, I would have so liked to believe that Allen was wrongly accused. After all, I heralded Blue Jasmine. I exulted in Midnight in Paris and Annie Hall. I once laughed out loud at Sleeper. For those films and those memories, I almost wish I could defend him.
But I can’t. I have too much respect for the sufferers that I know to brush the allegations made by Farrow aside. I have too serious an obligation to listen — without qualification or apology — to the women and men who come forward as victims of sexual abuse. I think we all do.
It’s hard to cherish a body of work, but condemn its auteur. It’s hard to separate my affection for this mighty collection of films from my feelings about the man who made them. And though I know one ugly truth — it’s harder to be Dylan Farrow — is it ever fair to divorce a creative talent from the implications tethered to his personal life? Do the allegations affect how one should feel about his art? They don’t impinge on the quality of his art. Should we boycott Allen films out of necessity to appease our respective compasses of morality? Should you feel guilty if you don’t?
Of course, none of us can ever know “what really happened” two decades ago. For now, though, I think it’s time I learn to see Central Park on my own.