Another year at Cannes, another year of buzz around a new Woody Allen film. It's as if Dylan Farrow's devastating allegations never happened. Ronan Farrow calls out the media's "culture of acquiescence" in "My Father, Woody Allen, and the Danger of Questions Unasked."
Ronan opens his piece for The Hollywood Reporter by recalling his 2014 interview with the author of a Bill Cosby biography—an interview where he compromised on the hard questions. He acknowledges comparisons "between the press' grudging evolution on Cosby and a painful chapter in [his] own family's history"—and proceeds to gracefully tear the media to shreds for continually protecting famous and powerful men. It's an eviscerating read.
At the start of 2014, his sister Dylan spoke out on her experiences of being groomed and sexually abused by their father. Working in media at the time, Ronan says he had "a window into just how potent the pressure can be to take the easy way out." He highlights the power of Woody's PR machine, wielding the sword of its high-profile client list, and feeding out material to discredit and vilify his sister—who, let's be clear, is a victim of sexual abuse. A victim of a crime.
Dylan found it hard to get anyone to cover her story, even the Los Angeles Times, which Ronan had written for. "There were too many relationships at stake," he says. "It was too hot for them." It's devastating proof of the way power works as a shield. It shouldn't still happen in the age of the internet, while we celebrate transparency and awareness as battles already won.
The New York Times eventually ran her story—"with careful caveats." And just a week later, gave Woody right of reply. In theory, good journalistic practice. But as Ronan says, they gave him twice the space and, intentionally or not, the final word. Woody had no need to tread carefully. "It was a stark reminder of how differently our press treats vulnerable accusers and powerful men who stand accused."
Ronan is so articulate about his desire to move on from family trauma. He begged Dylan to let it go. "I'm ashamed of that," he says. But Dylan's pain, her fear for other vulnerable girls, and his own memories of their father's inappropriate behavior forced him to reassess. "I began to look carefully at my own decisions in covering sexual assault stories."
The reason it's so hard to hold powerful men like Woody and Bill Cosby accountable, Ronan says, is that allegations are rarely backed by a criminal conviction. But the press has no excuse to then back down. "It makes our role more important when the legal system so often fails the vulnerable as they face off against the powerful."
Ronan is optimistic new media is stepping up, but as this year's Cannes Film Festival red carpet showed, a "culture of impunity and silence" still rules. Hollywood Reporter was tellingly banned from Woody's press lunch for his film, Café Society. The director comfortably brushed off a rape joke, saying, "It would take a lot to offend me." It's not about offense, though. It's about a criminal allegation. It's about a woman whose life has been ruined. And the silence of journalists, like Ronan says, "sends a message to victims that it's not worth the anguish of coming forward. It sends a message about who we are as a society, what we'll overlook, who we'll ignore, who matters and who doesn't."
Media isn't just journalists; it's consumers. What we choose to watch and who we choose to celebrate influences how and what publications will cover. It's business. I used to be on the fence about Woody Allen. Not in terms of his crimes—and they are crimes, conviction or no. But I didn't think about it too hard. I thought it was okay to enjoy Woody's films, separately to what I'd learned about his life. I've changed my mind.
Art is an expression of our experience of the world. To celebrate someone's art is to honor their experience. To ignore the whole of that, to take pleasure in Woody Allen's frothy, beautifully designed films and forget they are made by a man who abused a child, is to make an unacceptable split. Enjoyment and conscience should not be separated. At this level, there's no such thing as a guilty pleasure.