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Presuming Woody Allen’s Innocence Is Not a Neutral Stance

You hardly need me to tell you that over the weekend, the New York Times columnist Nick Kristof posted a letter from Dylan Farrow on his blog. The letter detailed the abuse she says she suffered at Allen’s hands 20 years ago, and goes on to note that all the context-free accolades that Allen has received in the years since — from both critics and awards shows — have taken a toll on her:

All but a precious few (my heroes) turned a blind eye. Most found it easier to accept the ambiguity, to say, “who can say what happened,” to pretend that nothing was wrong. Actors praised him at awards shows. Networks put him on TV. Critics put him in magazines. Each time I saw my abuser’s face – on a poster, on a t-shirt, on television – I could only hide my panic until I found a place to be alone and fall apart.

… What if it had been your child, Cate Blanchett? Louis CK? Alec Baldwin? What if it had been you, Emma Stone? Or you, Scarlett Johansson? You knew me when I was a little girl, Diane Keaton. Have you forgotten me?

If you are like me, this open letter became, among other things, an opportunity to weed your social media feeds. All over mine were people who, under the pretty thin veneer of “not rushing to judgment,” wanted to go on pretending that the affairs of 20 years ago must have been at best a mistake and at worst a conspiracy. And all of them operated on impartial, bad, or biased information. Their interventions tended to display only ignorance — people who claim that the fact that were no charges filed show Allen’s innocence are completely ignorant of the way that sex abuse prosecutions actually function in America today; there’s really no two ways about it — and cruelty. If you find Farrow’s letter easy to dismiss, because you like Allen’s movies or because you read some overly-defensive essay in the Daily Beast just last week, I tell you, you’re just as guilty of this so-called “rush to judgment” as anyone else.

Those who attack Farrow’s letter — and those people, to be clear, now include Allen’s attorney, PR rep, and the PR apparatus at Sony Pictures, which produced Blue Jasmine — and who rely on the legal system’s pronouncements to back them, bear a much higher burden than they think they do. They’d do well, for example, to look at what Aaron Bady, at The New Inquiry, wrote about this over the weekend:

What is the burden of proof for assuming that a person is lying? If you are a famous film director, it turns out to be quite high. You don’t have to say a word in your defense, in fact, and people who have directed documentaries about you will write lengthy essays in the Daily Beast tearing down the testimony of your accusers. You can just go about your life making movie after movie, and it’s fine. But if you are a woman who has accused a great film director of molesting you when you were seven, the starting point is the presumption that, without real evidence, you are not telling the truth. In the court of public opinion, a woman accusing a great film director of raping her has no credibility which his fans are bound to respect. He has something to lose, his good name. She does not, because she does not have a good name.

In other words: operating from the “presumption of innocence” is not the respectable neutrality you think it is. If you want to talk about all of this this week, you are making a choice when you do so. You will display your biases. The key is to be honest about them. So, for my part, let me be crystal clear that I’m exactly where my friend Roxane Gay said she was in a Salon piece on this Sunday:

I know where I stand and why. I know I would rather stand where I stand and eventually be proven wrong than support Woody Allen and eventually be proven wrong.

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