* #metoo, Culture, Featured

Why I won’t miss Hadley Freeman’s columns in The Guardian

Freeman's defence of Woody Allen reveals a lack of understanding about the difficulties victim survivors face when dealing with the justice system

Hadley Freeman is a journalist and writer who, until recently, wrote many columns for The Guardian.  Freeman writes intelligent and interesting pieces.  She’s about my age and has young kids, like me, so I often enjoyed her perspective on the things we have in common.

One thing we don’t share is Freeman’s very strong desire to defend Woody Allen.

Freeman’s defence of Allen sometimes takes the form of direct engagement on the topic of the sexual abuse allegations against him.  For example, on 29 May 2020 Freeman published an interview with Allen in The Guardian under the title “‘Do I really care?’ Woody Allen comes out fighting”.  In this interview, Allen responds directly to the allegations against him.  Freeman’s interview is written from a pro-Allen perspective, including a passage where Freeman herself states (in relation to the abuse allegations): “these are the facts …” as if she is somehow the authoritative source on what are the relevant “facts” in relation to the allegations.  Among other things, the interview includes a defence of Allen’s sexual relationship with Soon-Yi Previn, the adopted daughter of Allen’s former partner Mia Farrow.

Another piece, published just under a year later on 3 March 2021, carried the title “Allen v Farrow is pure PR.  Why else would it omit so much?”  In the piece Freeman rehashes some of the 29 May 2020 piece, including the same restating of facts Freeman considers relevant to demonstrate, it seems, that Dylan Farrow was not abused by her father.  Freeman then criticizes the filmmakers for being activists rather than journalists – an interesting take for a writer so obviously advocating on behalf of Allen time and again.  In addition to the two pieces already mentioned, Freeman directly addresses the allegations against Allen in at least three other pieces in The Guardian in just a couple of years: “Actors are lining up to condemn Woody Allen.  Why now?” (3 February 2018); “Why Woody Allen’s publisher was wrong to drop his memoir” (10 March 2020); and “Moses Farrow: I’d be very happy to take my father’s surname” (11 December 2020).

In addition to her directly “pro-Woody” pieces, Freeman also takes the opportunity to defend Allen in other columns about different subjects.  It was such a piece, published on 8 October 2021 in The Guardian, that finally tipped me over the edge to write this missive.  It is an interview with the actor Barbara Hershey, carrying the title “Barbara Hershey on Beaches, Woody Allen and breastfeeding on TV: ‘I was an innocent’”.  I loved Barbara Hershey in Beaches and I didn’t know a thing about her breastfeeding on TV, so I read the interview.  It was a great interview.  I really enjoyed it.  Except for the fact that Freeman yet again couldn’t help but return to the Allen allegations (even though it is apparent from the interview that Hershey herself doesn’t want to be drawn into it).

Freeman begins by describing Allen’s relationship with Previn in a way that minimizes the reality of the dynamics involved.  Freeman describes him as “cheating” on Farrow with her adopted daughter.  Although Previn was indeed Farrow’s adopted daughter, Allen had been in a relationship with Farrow for more than a decade when Farrow discovered pornographic photographs of her daughter at Allen’s home.  Further, Previn was just 21 years old – Allen was 56.  But Freeman doesn’t dwell on facts of this kind.  Instead she asks Hershey what she thinks of the “vilification” of Allen over the past decade “despite his having been cleared by two investigations in the 90s”.  The word “vilification” links to Freeman’s earlier interview with Allen.

What bothers me about Freeman’s defence of Allen is that it completely ignores the commonly understood difficulties in getting to trial, let alone obtaining a conviction, in sexual assault cases.

The difficulties become almost insuperable obstacles where the victim-survivor is a child.  And we aren’t talking here about 2021.  We are talking about the 1990s – hardly an enlightened time when it came to sexual assault.  Yet Freeman clings on to the fact that Allen was “cleared” in the 1990s as if she is unaware the justice system is imperfect.  As if she is unaware of the biases inherent within it.  As if she is unaware of how difficult it is for women (let alone young children) to obtain justice for sexual offences within that system.  In any criminal system, the fact that a person is found to be “not guilty” does not mean that the person is innocent.  “Not guilty” means only that within that criminal system the charge was not proved to the applicable legal standard (for example, “beyond reasonable doubt”).  While the #metoo movement has provided so many insights into the awful challenges facing women who seek justice in relation to sexual offences, Freeman seems to be oblivious to these deeper understandings (at least, in the case of Mr Allen).

Amazingly, however, Freeman’s references to Allen having been “cleared” are not in fact references to a criminal trial.

Although she does not make that fact apparent in the Hershey interview, her 11 December 2020 piece shows she is referring to a conclusion reached by a sexual abuse clinic and a child welfare investigation.  Not a court.  Allen has never been “cleared” by a court.  If what Freeman means to say is that the authorities decided there wasn’t enough evidence to charge Allen, then Freeman should say that.  The repeated use of the language of “cleared” is misleading.

Honestly Ms Freeman, defending Allen seems an odd hill to want to climb.  Haven’t you seen Manhattan?  You know, the movie where Allen’s 42 year old character is dating a 17 year old high school student?  The actor who played that student, Mariel Hemingway, has subsequently revealed that when she was only 18 Allen propositioned her.  He flew to her parents’ home to invite her to go to Paris with him.  When Hemingway realised the purpose of the trip she confronted him, saying “I’m not going to get my own room, am I?”.  According to Hemingway, when she told Allen she couldn’t go to Paris with him he left her parents’ home the next morning (see https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2015/03/woody-allen-mariel-hemingway-manhattan).

Does Mariel Hemingway’s account, or the fact of Allen’s relationship with Previn, mean that he sexually abused Dylan Farrow?  Of course not.

But I do wonder why, in defending Allen in her various columns in The Guardian, Freeman seeks not only to focus on the fact of him being “cleared” in the 90s but also seeks to minimize the features of the Allen-Previn relationship that would make most people want to avoid leaving their teenage daughters in a room alone with him.  I also wonder why she chooses to write about the “certainty” of Dylan’s brother Moses that his sister “was not abused by their father”.  Given that Dylan does not say that Moses was in the room at the relevant time, why does Freeman think Moses’s opinion (and it can only be an opinion) is relevant?  He wasn’t in the attic, Ms Freeman, so he cannot know.

I could continue but I won’t.  I suppose this is a way of saying that although I’ve enjoyed some aspects of Freeman’s work, her repeated defence of Woody Allen has left a sour taste – principally because it betrays a lack of understanding of the ways in which the justice system has failed victim survivors of sexual abuse.