Nothing was ever hidden in the director’s strange personal life.
It was the summer before my sophomore year of high school. My dad, a lifelong fan of the director, encouraged me to binge watch about forty-three of Allen’s movies during a hot July. That October, I went to school dressed as the iconic character Annie Hall. Nobody knew who I was.
Fast forward to the summer of 2020. Suddenly, Woody Allen’s name is a common one amongst popular media outlets. “Did you hear?” and “I can’t believe he married his step daughter” were frequent phrases. Now, the 2021 documentary Allen v. Farrow investigating his molestation allegation trial is set to release on HBO max on Sunday, February 21st. It looks like society is ready to try to cancel another director, but to many people, it’s already too late to mean anything.
In 2005, actress Scarlett Johansson made her debut in Allen’s filmography in the feature film Match Point. Critics called the movie “Woody’s best for ages,” referring to the film as a “well-crafted (yet R-rated) tale of lust, greed, vanity, and murder.” The film, starring Johansson alongside Jonathon Rhys Meyers, follows a scandalous affair between the two heartthrob actors in a daring movie about tennis. With its success, the public seemed to forgive and forget Allen’s scandal in the 90s.
Since Match Point’s success, Allen has found success in fourteen additional films starring actors like Owen Wilson, Javier Bardem, and Penelope Cruz. Films like Midnight In Paris became family favorites, reflecting the original values and style of Allen’s early work in the 70s, like Love & Death and Manhattan. Woody Allen became a household name again, but not without loss. The strategic decision to remove himself from the starring line up of his films may not have just been a choice made because of old age, but out of necessity for success.
Woody Allen prototypically stars in his films opposite a woman who, on the surface level, is “too pretty” for Allen’s character. Allen, prototypically himself, plays a character that is often closely linked to Allen’s real-life personality. The original punchline of his movies was the exploitation of his own “bad looks.” Allen’s gag was how unbelievable and unrealistic the romantic relationships were in his movies. Viewers would say, “well this would never happen in real life, he’s too creepy/ugly/scary/goofy.” Meanwhile, his films’ scandals were mimicking real life.
Actress Mia Farrow, who starred in the classic Woody Allen film Hannah & Her Sisters, started dating Allen in 1980. She was not the first of one of Allen’s movie actresses to date him. Diane Keaton, the actress who played title character Annie Hall in the class film Annie Hall, also briefly dated Allen in the early 70s, except Keaton came out unscathed. Farrow and Allen had a seemingly happy relationship, caring for several of Farrow’s adopted children and one biological child together for just over a decade. In 1992, chaos erupted, and Woody Allen stepped up to the chopping block.
In January of 1992, Farrow uncovered provocative photos suggesting a sexual relationship between Allen and her adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn. At the time, Previn was twenty one. Allen admitted to sleeping with Farrow’s daughter two weeks prior to Farrow uncovering the photos. The relationship between Farrow and Allen came to a halt, and the relationship between Previn and Allen commenced.
Allen’s morals were in question. Previn, who was eight at the time of her meeting her now husband when he was fifty seven, made public statement after public statement denouncing the allegations against Allen’s character following the public scandal, but a more twisted turning point in this narrative was still approaching. In August of 1992, the same year Previn and Allen‘s affair went public, Mia Farrow accused Woody Allen of sexually molesting her then seven year old daughter Dylan.
In the unnerving case of Allen V. Farrow, Farrow set out to sue Allen for sole custody of her minor children as well as a monthly payment for their support. Though it seemed justified after an abuse allegation was released accusing Allen of molesting Dylan Farrow, Farrow suspended the case without clear reason. Other strange details, like the years leading up to the trial when Farrow gave Allen full custody of her children in her will, have poked holes in the conversation surrounding the case for years. While Dylan and Mia Farrow have both continued to accuse Allen of misconduct, Allen has continued to deny the allegations, and no further lawsuit has been pursued. Allen was denied custody over any of his minor children in a 1993 court ruling.
In 2006, Tarana Burke started the #metoo movement. Over the subsequent years, gross misconduct and abuse from decades of work in Hollywood from director’s like Harvey Weinstein came into the limelight. Countless actors, directors, writers, and others involved in film and television were ‘cancelled’ for their involvement in sexual misconduct. America was floored with allegations and quick to drop people from their most-watched list. Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., and Ben Affleck were just a few among those who received accusations in this landslide liberation of silently abused women, but as years passed and a sexist leader was elected into office, the nation seemed to forgive and forget most of those involved as predators in the accusations. Allen’s name just barely missed the shortlist of around two hundred and one powerful men whose careers were destroyed due to their own behavior.
To America, the case of being accused of sexual assault and then marrying your partner’s adopted daughter was not enough to drop Woody Allen as a household name. The narratives surrounding Allen and his filmography didn’t seem to budge in any direction for action. In 2016, HuffPost published an article about the problematic and sexist themes in Allen’s work. The next year in 2017, another HuffPost article was published requesting people not be angry at Allen for “not casting black actors” in his films. In 2019, a HuffPost article titled “Woody Allen Is Somehow Still Making Movies” was published as a somewhat helpless call for attention to the still powerful director and writer. Other media outlets explored the various highs and lows of Allen’s career since the allegations of Dylan Farrow, but HuffPost’s timeline and decline in defense of Allen paints the picture best. Finally, in 2021, it seems like Allen will be truly wiped from Hollywood fame, but this implied demand for Allen’s fall from the limelight is coming almost six decades too late.
Allen’s films became widely popular and well received in the sixties and seventies, but there is no denying the politically incorrect and exploitive qualities of the films. Intentionally casting beautiful and appealing women to play his opposite was Allen’s overused party trick, and this predatory behavior was excused for decades. Unfortunately, it was likely no surprise to anyone that Allen would pursue a problematic relationship with Soon-Yi Previn, and his behavior was excused. Part of this defense of Allen may be due to the sentimental value of his art. His movies beautifully capture the romantic yet humble side of New York, and for every Connecticut dwelling person who was raised watching his movies and accepting them as normal, Woody Allen has majority remained a beloved figure. It’s no wonder so many articles were published in his defense, almost as if to say to everyone yes, we know what he’s been accused of, but we’re OK with it.
The relentless push and pull of Allen’s hold on the limelight has been silently and passively overlooked for so long that it seems without reason to cancel the director now. Hollywood has proven itself to be a sympathizer for abusive and allegedly predatory men, and judging by his success still today, Allen may never go away entirely. Allen even silently published a memoir in 2020 which caused a small outcry, but nothing large enough to take him down. While society has supposedly left the sexist main-players of film in the 20th century, directors like Allen seem to slip through the cracks. Perhaps it is because of his huge fan base still alive and well today, or perhaps we as humans have normalized sexual assault so much to the point that those accused of predatory behavior fall on a spectrum where some not-quite-bad-enough behavior is excused. Allen’s permitted misconduct and grasp on popularity is not surprising, and judging by his history, this brief reminder of Allen’s strange and inappropriate track record may just be his last for ages.